A majority of Texans now support cannabis legalization. But legislation in the Lone Star State hasn’t kept up. Texas has a small medical cannabis program, beyond which possession amounts to a criminal offense.
According to a new poll from the University of Texas, Tyler and The Dallas Morning News, 55 percent of Texans support or strongly support cannabis for adult use, and 72 percent support cannabis for medical use.
Support differs along party lines. Some 65 percent of Democrats surveyed support or strongly support adult-use cannabis legalization, while 75 percent support medical. Among Republicans, just under half — 43 percent — support or strongly support adult-use cannabis, and 32 percent are “strongly opposed.” Some 67 percent support or strongly support medical cannabis.
The existing medical cannabis program, legalized in 2015, is limited. The state allows patients with certain qualifying conditions to access low-THC cannabis. Approved conditions include epilepsy, seizure disorder, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), autism, incurable neurodegenerative diseases, PTSD, and cancer. Following the additions of PTSD and cancer at any stage, the patient count grew. As of July 2022, there are just under 32,000 registered patients, according to the Texas Department of Safety.
Florida, which has a smaller population than Texas, has roughly 741,000 qualified medical patients, according to Florida’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Florida legalized medical cannabis in 2014.
Beyond the medical program, cannabis in Texas is still very illegal. Possession of fewer than 2 ounces is a misdemeanor, punishable by 180 days of incarceration and a fine. Possession of more than 2 ounces is punishable by up to a year of incarceration and a fine. And anything beyond 4 ounces is categorized as a felony.
Following a survey with similar results in May, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he does not support the legalization of cannabis but does favor reducing penalties for possession, according to The Dallas Morning News.
“We don’t need to be stockpiling in our jails and prisons will people who are arrested for minor possession allegations,” Abbott said. “We would be keeping those jails for dangerous criminals who deserve to be behind bars.”
Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s opponent for the November gubernatorial race and a former congressman, supports the broad legalization of cannabis.
Texas Lawmakers vs. Voters
Texas lawmakers are also out of step with voters on other issues, like abortion. An April poll from the University of Texas, Texas Politics Project showed 54 percent of voters opposed banning abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, which it did in June, whereas 35 percent expressed support. By party, 80 percent of Democrats and just 34 percent of Republicans oppose banning access to abortion.
In spite of the polling, a highly restrictive law is set to go into effect on August 25 that establishes civil and criminal penalties for performing abortions and bans nearly all of them, except in cases where pregnancy poses a serious health risk to a mother.
Federal Lawmakers vs. Voters
Lawmakers at the federal level are also out-of-step with growing sentiment in support of cannabis legalization among the broader population. In Congress, support is still mostly divided along party lines, despite surveys showing support for legalization is increasingly bipartisan.
Some 91 percent of adults say cannabis should be legal for medical use only or for medical and recreational use, according to Pew Research Center. The issue is still more popular among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, with 95 percent agreeing cannabis should be legal in some form, but it is gaining traction among more conservative adults as well. Some 87 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning adults agree cannabis should be legalized in some form. And a majority of states where voters could decide on medical or adult-use cannabis legalization in November voted Republican in the 2020 election.