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None of the top candidates for governor of Texas wants to continue to imprison people for possession of marijuana. Cooled insanity has been replaced by cooler indifference.
The shift at the top level of politics reflects a shift in public opinion – politicians are nothing if not sensitive to the feelings of voters – and a change in popular culture that has turned “gateway drugs” into a drug that is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia and decriminalized in several others.
Texas is not on this list of states, at least not yet. While public policy has not changed much, public opinion has.
A May 2010 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that most Texas voters either do not believe that marijuana should be legal (27%) or that it should only be legal for medical purposes (27%). Only 42% said possession should be legal in small amounts (28%) or large (14%).
A June 2021 UT/TT survey found that when asked when marijuana should be legal, 13% said never and 27% said for medical use only — a total of 40%. The majority – 60% – said that possession of small (31%) or large (29%) quantities should be allowed.
While other states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana, the Texas legislature has not been willing to jump in, in part because 18% of Republicans believe pot should never be legal, and another 39% believe only medical use should be allowed. . But that poll also found that 69% of Texas voters — including strong majorities in both parties — supported reducing penalties for marijuana possession.
Austin voters will have a chance in May to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, establishing what is already a standard policing practice in the capital. The same group that supports that initiative, Ground Game Texas, is trying to get similar proposals on the ballot in Killeen and Harker Heights in Central Texas.
And some candidates talk about it, even though they haven’t made marijuana an essential part of their campaigns.
Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who is running for his party’s nomination to challenge Republican Governor Greg Abbott, wants to legalize the bet in Texas and make it a regular line in his speeches. He’s been in this for a while, through his previous political campaigns. One of his congressional opponents, then-US Representative Sylvester Reyes, called out in a 2012 TV ad: “Say no to drugs. Say no to Peto.” O’Rourke, who didn’t make much of a betting policy in this race, won despite the attack.
Abbott has not signed off on the changes to the law, but he is not strict on the matter. He said before the 2018 elections that he was open to reducing possession penalties. In response to a question about this at a recent campaign event, He said He believes that “prison and prison are a place for dangerous criminals who might harm others, and small possession of marijuana is not the kind of violation we want prisons to be stored with.”
Abbott’s comments echoed his predecessor, former Governor Rick Perry, who suggested decriminalizing marijuana in a 2014 interview with Jimmy Kimmel at SXSW in Austin. “You don’t want to ruin a child’s life for a common existence.”
A few years earlier, in 2011, his position was that states had to decide. “I don’t completely agree with the concept of legalizing marijuana, but it should be California’s decision,” Berry said.
He made a similar argument about the legalization of same-sex marriage, which was not legal in Texas and other states, but was gaining increasing public acceptance. A few years later, in 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize and license same-sex marriage. But Perry said at the time that states had to decide.
“If you don’t support the death penalty and the citizens are packing a gun, don’t come to Texas,” Perry said. “If you don’t like medical marijuana and gay marriage, don’t move to California.”
Same-sex marriage is legal everywhere in the United States, and marijuana is still left to the states, although it is still illegal under federal law. And in Texas, possession is still against the law—if executed by local police.
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