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The Texas Republican Party officially opposed statewide marijuana legalization at its biennial state convention, despite recent polling that shows a majority of voters are in favor of the reform.

GOP members in Texas also adopted positions that oppose drug harm reduction policies such as needle exchange services, while promoting “faith-based rehabilitation” for those with substance misuses issues, insisting that welfare recipients undergo mandatory, random drug tests, and formally designating drug cartels as terrorist groups.

However, Texas Republicans voted in favor of federally rescheduling cannabis from Schedule I to II and for fewer hemp regulations.

It is the party’s opposition to cannabis legalization in the face of bipartisan voter support for the measure that has attracted the most responses though.

Beto O’Rourke, one-time candidate for the Democratic nomination to the presidency and a strong supporter of drug policy reform, took issue with the Republicans’ continued support of marijuana criminalization, among other restrictive social policies that have provoked nationwide condemnation.

In 2018, Texas Republicans appeared to soften their stance on marijuana by adopting a plank in favor of cannabis decriminalization but this was overturned in 2020 despite the fact that bipartisan attorney generals across the state had decided to no longer pursue convictions for low-level cannabis offenses. During this period, the largest law enforcement agency in Texas instructed its officers not to arrest individuals for low-level cannabis offenses, citing a judicial backlog and confusion over cannabis prosecutions following the legalization of hemp.

In the meantime, the Texas House advanced a marijuana decriminalization bill in 2019, but it received no traction in the GOP-controlled Senate. A similar measure was again approved by the House in 2021 but it also failed to advance in the Senate.

The reaffirmed opposition to marijuana legalization follows a statement from Gov. Greg Abbott’s in January when he seemed in favor of decriminalizing cannabis by saying “prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and small possession of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with.”

It appears this was based on his misunderstanding of Texas’ marijuana laws though. He believed possession up to two ounces is considered a Class C misdemeanor that doesn’t carry the threat of jail time, but it remains a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.

Texas voters, whether Democrat or Republican, would go even further though. One poll found broad support for cannabis legalization, while another survey revealed the reform is more popular in Texas than any elected official in the state as well as President Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, marijuana reform advocates in Texas are taking the fight to the local level, with cannabis decriminalization measures expected to be on the ballots in at least five cities. Voters in Austin already approved the policy change in 2020.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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