AUSTIN, Texas (KETK) Texas lawmakers are turning to marijuana legalization to fill a hole caused by the coronavirus pandemic in the state budget.
According to Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar, the amount of general revenue available for the state’s current two-year budget is projected to be roughly $11.5 billion less than originally estimated. That puts the state on track to end the biennium, which runs through August 2021, with a deficit of nearly $4.6 billion.
We have had to make assumptions about the economic impact of COVID-19, the duration and effects of which remain largely unknown…it likely will take some time to recover from the economic damage done by the deep recession caused by the virus.”Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller
Democrats are now hoping to convince Texans to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. They believe that a legal marijuana industry could bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and create tens of thousands of jobs.
As we see a number of states engaging around the country in a retail market, this is no longer an experiment. It is also no secret that we are heading into some rough economic waters, and we need to explore every possible revenue stream.Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso
According to the Texas Tribune, State Sen. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso filed bills this week in advance of the 2021 legislative session that would legalize, regulate and tax personal cannabis use. State Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg has proposed putting the question of legalization to Texas voters.
A recent study shows more than 1.5 million Texans, over the age of 21, use cannabis on a monthly basis, giving the potential for over 2 billion dollars in revenue. However, some Smith County leaders believe the higher payout may be deceiving.
“I know a lot of people think that there is a big paycheck out there if we just legalize marijuana, we’ll make a bunch of money in taxes. The states that have legalized it have shown, while you do make money on taxes all of the negative consequences that come with legalization actually cost you more than you make,” explained Smith County District Attorney, Jacob Putman.
Putnam has seen his fair share of offenses, and believes East Texans have made their opinions clear in court, against the use of marijuana.
“I think Smith County as a whole is still against the legalization of drugs, we see that when we pick juries here in Smith County when we try drug cases, the jury hears the evidence, and they find them guilty,” said Putman.
The District Attorney says while reform is needed, it may not be the kind some lawmakers are looking at, stating, “hopefully the legislature will do the right thing, but I do hope that they will increase funding for rehabilitation services, so those people who want to get off drugs can.”
Voters in more states have legalized recreational cannabis use, including five more this month bringing the total to 16.
According to the Texas Tribune, marijuana arrests and prosecutions across Texas have plummeted, largely because a bill passed last year that legalizes hemp has thrown prosecutions into disarray, and some cities have already eased off on pursuing small pot cases.
Gutierrez estimates that legalization could create up to 30,000 Texas jobs, and Moody said the legislation could “add hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, if not billions.”
A recent analysis by a cannabis law firm said if Texas taxed cannabis similarly to Colorado, the state could take in more than $1.1 billion dollars per biennium.
The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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