Voters in the Lone Star state are ready to embrace legalizing cannabis.
Fifty-eight percent of Texans say that they support legalizing licensed marijuana sales to those age 21 and older, according to the findings of a Public Policy Polling survey, released earlier today. Eight hundred and sixty voters were randomly selected to participate in the poll, which was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project.
Men and women nearly equally supported legalization (59% and 57% respectively). Seventy percent of Democrats and 57% of Independents backed the plan, as did 48% of Texas Republicans.
In response to separate polling questions, 61% of voters said that they supported decriminalizing minor pot possession offenses by replacing existing criminal penalties with civil fines only. Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed also expressed support for allowing the physician-recommended use of medical cannabis.
It is easy to see why Texas voters recognize the need for statewide reforms. Under state law, first-time pot possession is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Annually, some 80,000 Texas citizens are arrested for marijuana violations; an estimated 97% of those arrested and charged for possession alone -- not trafficking, cultivation or sale. This percentage is among the highest level recorded anywhere in the nation.
In 2013, Texas lawmakers failed to act on proposed legislation, House Bill 184, which sought to amend minor marijuana possession penalties for certain first-time offenders to a fine-only, Class C misdemeanor -- despite hearing pleas from over 2,500 constituents in support of the measure. Separate legislation, HB 594, which sought to permit a defendant to raise an affirmative defense of medical marijuana necessity at trial, also failed to gain a vote in committee. Because of state legislative rules, lawmakers cannot consider either measure again until at least 2015.