Texas gubernatorial candidates talk marijuana decriminalization on campaign trail

Marijuana Legalization
Posted at 10:26 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 23:26:47-05

As the race for governor gets underway, a conversation about marijuana decriminalization has also made its way back to the political stage in Texas.

Both Governor Greg Abbott and Democratic front-runner, Beto O'Rourke, have discussed their stances on marijuana while on the campaign trail this week.

At a campaign stop in Edinburg, Texas, Abbott explained his desire to not overwhelm the state's prison system with low-level marijuana offenders.

"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," Abbott said.

O'Rourke has been an outspoken supporter of marijuana decriminalization in Texas.

"Legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do," O'Rourke said in a statement to 25 News. "We can stop locking Texans up for a substance that’s legal in much of the rest of the country & allow police to focus on violent crime."

In 2021, Texas lowered the punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana and expanded its medical marijuana programs.

Marijuana decriminalization advocates, like Jax James, the executive director of Texas NORML, support a regulated market for cannabis in the state.

"Having cannabis be outlawed is just not really feasible not only for consumers but for law enforcement as well," James said.

Despite the benefits for law enforcement and tax revenue that advocates point to, critics are concerned about the health and behavioral effects of legalizing recreational marijuana.

"I think it would be foolish to follow some of the rules, say in Colorado or Washington State, where they've legalized it even more so than tobacco," said McLennan County Republican Party chairman Bradford Holland.

Holland said the Republican party recognizes the medicinal benefits that cannabis has and that minor possession cases aren't worth filling jails over, but that O'Rourke's platform goes too far.

"[Texans] want their guns legal and their drugs illegal, and I think he wants to do it the other way around," he said.