Gov. Abbott Remains Against Marijuana Legalization

Governor Greg Abbott
Governor Greg Abbott | Image by Miguel Gutierrez / The Texas Tribune

On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott stated that he had not changed his stance on the issue of marijuana legalization. Abbott said he only supports reducing the criminal penalty for marijuana possession to a Class C misdemeanor but not completely legalizing the drug.

Abbott made the remarks during a roundtable discussion with business leaders in North Richland Hills, adding he understands the marijuana laws need to be changed.

“We don’t need to be stockpiling in our jails and prisons [with] 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.”

In Texas, possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or less is a Class B misdemeanor. It is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Possession of more than 2 ounces could result in up to a year in prison, and having more than 4 ounces in possession is a felony.

According to a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released last week, the governor’s position may be in line with most Republican voters in the state.

Just 42% of Republicans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, compared with a majority of Democrats and independents at 76% and 64%, respectively.

The survey polled 1,232 voters between May 2-10 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Victor Cogburn, a Republican from Stephenville, was one of the respondents to the poll. He is a retired lieutenant of correctional officers who worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for 26 years.

Cogburn says he opposes the legalization of marijuana in any form.

“It is a drug,” he said. “That’s dope. That’s dope, that is the way I look at it. No, it should not be legalized.”

However, an overwhelming majority of the state’s registered voters — 91% of Democrats, 85% of independents, and 74% of Republicans, combining for 83% total — do support legalizing marijuana for medicinal use in Texas, which the Legislature has expanded over time, including as recently as last year.

Texas’ compassionate use program, created in 2015, allows eligible residents to access low tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cannabis for medical purposes. Only Texans with epilepsy, seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, spasticity, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, terminal cancer, and incurable neurodegenerative diseases were eligible for the program.

Last year, the Legislature expanded the program to include Texans with all forms of PTSD and cancer.

Further, an overall 60% of respondents in the poll said they support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, which 18 states, including neighboring New Mexico, have already done.

Howard Rogers is a Republican from Deer Park who responded to the poll. He said he does not smoke marijuana but supports legalizing it for medical and recreational use.

“It’s your own business, what you do,” he said. “It’s just like drinking [alcohol], I drink. … It’s everybody’s business what they do at their own home.”

Even though marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, multiple states have been legalizing or decriminalizing it over the last decade. Voters in Oklahoma approved medical marijuana legalization last year, and this year they will vote on whether or not to legalize it for recreational use statewide.

A nationwide poll from CBS News found that two-thirds of Americans support the legalization of recreational marijuana at the federal level and in their state.

John Beltran, a software developer from Pflugerville, is an independent who responded to the DMN-UT-Tyler poll. He says he has never used marijuana but supports its legalization because studies indicate it could benefit local communities and governments.

“It shows that [marijuana] reduces the need for the use of opioids in those communities where it’s legal, even when it’s just for medicinal use,” Beltran said. “Recreational use, where it’s regulated and you don’t buy it off the street … and being able to be taxed [on marijuana], to fund social programs or whatever the local governments decide, would make a lot more sense than just letting it be bought from, you know, any random person.”

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