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Legislators Introduce Cannabis Bills As Texans Favor Legalization

David McNew
Getty Images

TPR’s Jerry Clayton recently spoke with Heather Fazio, Director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy about legalization efforts and the voters who support those efforts.

Jerry Clayton: A majority of Texas voters in a recent poll said they favor the legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes. Both Democrats and Republicans have introduced more than two dozen bills in the current Texas legislative session. Is the tide about to change when it comes to legalization of cannabis? Heather Fazio is the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. She joins us today. Thanks for being here, Heather.

Heather Fazio: Yes, thanks for the opportunity, Jerry.

Clayton: Now, overall in Texas, what is the percentage of people who favor legalization both for medical and recreational purposes?

Fazio: Well, recent polling in the State of Texas shows that two thirds of Texas voters would like to see marijuana legalized. Most would like to see funds used for things like funding schools or health and human services. And we see even more supporting decriminalization how these numbers changed over the years. But we've seen a big shift over the last five to 10 years on perceptions about marijuana and marijuana policies that we should have on the books. We've been fed lies and misinformation by our own government for decades in order to maintain marijuana prohibition. And once people start looking at the facts for themselves, they really start to have a different perspective. And that's why we're seeing public polling showing overwhelming support for reform at the federal and the state level and exactly why we're seeing lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, starting to take this issue up in a serious way.

Clayton: If you look at a state like, let's say, Colorado, who has legalized marijuana, how is that fared for them as it worked out?

Fazio: Colorado is one of the pioneers to legalize marijuana. They did that in 2012. Texas is in a good position to lean on the principles that we we love and champion here in our states — individual liberty, personal responsibility and free enterprise. These states have done well in keeping people out of jail, allowing those who may have a substance abuse problem to access the resources they need to overcome that challenge in their life. Of course, we can't go without talking about the revenue that's been generated and what we're talking about many millions of dollars. In Texas, it's estimated that we could bring in $1 billion per budget cycle by simply regulating this substance of product that people are already using.

Clayton: There are several pieces of legislation being introduced in this current legislative session in Texas. Can you tell me something about those?

Fazio: We've seen over two dozen cannabis related bills introduced for consideration by this 87th Texas Legislature — bills introduced by both Democrats and Republicans. They range from simple penalty reduction for low level possession, keeping people out of jail for the possession of marijuana, of course, preserving valuable public safety resources. But we also see bills that would expand the compassionate use program allowing more patients access to medical cannabis.

Clayton: There are some Republican leaders in the state who have said flatly that they do not want legalization. What is it going to take for this attitude to change?

Fazio: Well, it's critical that the people that want to see marijuana policies changed are advocating for it in an effective way, communicating with their lawmakers about how these failing policies are impacting families, impacting communities and our state as a whole. We have millions of Texans that want to see these laws changed. And what we need to see now is action taken at the Capitol, constituents reaching out to their legislators to ensure that they fully understand the issue and that they can make the right decisions when policies are up for consideration.

Clayton: Heather Fazio, thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us today.

Fazio: Thanks so much, Jerry. Have a great day.

Clayton: Heather Fazio is the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy based in Austin.

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Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.