Texans taking a more relaxed view of marijuana

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Breanna Deutsch Contributor
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America’s largest red state is warming up to marijuana legalization.

Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman became the nineteenth cosponsor of the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013, a bill that would prevent the federal government from penalizing individuals from abiding by marijuana laws within his or her state, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The Controlled Substance Act, which currently places marijuana in the most dangerous class of drugs, prohibits its use in all circumstances. The federal law dating back to the 1970s states that marijuana has a “high potential for abuse,” that it has no “accepted medical use” and that there is a “lack of accepted safety” associated with the drug.

If passed, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act would amend the Controlled Substances Act to “provide that provisions of such Act related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with state laws” relating to the drug.

In other words, following state marijuana laws would not be a violation of federal law.

Some residents of Stockman’s home state would like to see Texas liberalize its own pot laws.

A recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Marijuana Policy Project found majority support for legalization.

According to the poll, 58 percent of Texas say that they either “strongly support (41 percent)” or “somewhat support (17 percent)” changing the state’s restrictive marijuana laws to match the state’s regulation of alcohol. This would allow licensed stores to sell marijuana to people aged 21 or older.

Around 14 percent “somewhat oppose” the full legalization of marijuana and 24 percent “strongly oppose” allowing the drug for recreational use.

The same study found that the majority of Texans, 61 percent, would support legislation relaxing the punishment of people caught with the drug. Texans believe that possessing an ounce or less of the substance should be a civil offense worthy of up to a $100 fine, rather than make it a criminal offense. Under the current legal code, someone caught with a small quantity of marijuana can be charged up to $2,000 and sentenced to a year in jail.

Texans’ support for changing the state’s marijuana laws may have more to do with economics than acceptance of the drug.

Nathan Jones, a postdoctoral fellow in Drug Policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute, told the Chronicle that Texans do not want to pay the heavy taxes necessary to punish the offenders according to the current state laws. Jones pointed out that the state also loses money when non-violent offenders leave jail and have difficulty finding a job.

Texas is not the only Republican-leaning state with such tendencies. Public opinion polls in Arizona, Kentucky, Louisiana  and Oklahoma show that the majority of residents are in favor of tapering some of the states’ harsh marijuana laws.

Some traditionally liberal states, such as Massachusetts, are actually less likely to support relaxing state marijuana regulations. A Public Policy Polling survey conducted in Massachusetts, a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 3 to 1, showed that only 49 percent of residents supported the legalization of marijuana.

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