Texas may be ready for talk about pot

Posted Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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There are few issues in Texas that have the capacity to build coalitions across the political divide, but marijuana legalization might be one.

And a new poll suggests that the debate may be ripe for discussion.

The University of Texas/ Texas Tribune poll found that less than a quarter of Texans believe marijuana should remain illegal in all circumstances.

In contrast, 28 percent of Texans would support marijuana for medical use, and when combining those who favor legalization in small amounts (32 percent) and those who favor legalization in any amount (17 percent), almost half of Texans support marijuana legalization at least to some degree.

The shift in public opinion reflects larger national trends. Gallup reported in October that for the first time, a clear majority (58 percent) of Americans support legalization.

But proponents should hold their pipes, as there is no indication that Texas is on the path to becoming Colorado (where pot became legal this year) any time soon.

The more likely scenario for the Lone Star State is a further effort to decriminalize pot.

In 2007, Austin began easing criminal penalties for marijuana possession, giving police officers the choice of issuing a court summons, essentially a ticket, for those possessing up to four ounces of marijuana, instead of hauling violators off to jail.

In January, Gov. Rick Perry, who does not support legalization, reiterated support for decriminalization in the form of treatment programs and softer penalties for minor offenses.

During a CNN interview last week, Perry said these efforts have reduced prison populations and conserved resources.

More important, they have kept young people from becoming hardened criminals, instead putting them on track to becoming productive citizens.

The move to decriminalization and legalization is not universally welcome. At a recent Dallas forum for lieutenant governor, three of four hopefuls expressed opposition to changing the state’s current policies.

And in 2013, a bill jointly authored by Democrat state Reps. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth and Harold Dutton of Houston that would have made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, languished in the House.

But clearly, Texans of all political stripes are thinking about marijuana penalties.

Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized marijuana through referenda. And the nation will certainly be watching to see what lessons may be learned.

Texas may not be ready to make a policy shift, but it seems prepared for the dialogue.

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