December Livestream: Ask a Lawyer!December 4, 2023
Wednesday, February 7, 2024 at 7pm CT
Join Texas NORML for our monthly livestreams, held the first Wednesday of every month at 7 pm.
For Texas NORML’s February livestream Executive Director Jax James covers the lawsuit from Texas AG against 5 cities, a look back at 2023 legislation that passed across the nation, current state of the More Act, the upcoming primary election, and our voters guide, as well as some announcements.
Texas GOP Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit against five cities to overturn marijuana decriminalization ‘Anarchy’ local voter approval. Voters in Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen, and San Marcos had the chance to weigh in on the reform—and each of them passed the cannabis measures on their ballots. Austin voters, for example, strongly approved a marijuana decriminalization measure this past May. A sixth effort in San Antonio failed in May 2023. Harker Heights wasn’t targeted in the lawsuit, which is likely related to the city’s refusal to implement the voter-approved policy change, which prompted Ground Game to file suit against officials last month.
Citing state statute and Constitutional provisions that Paxton argues prevent localities from enacting laws that conflict with statewide policy, Paxton said in a press release on Wednesday that he “will not stand idly by as cities run by pro-crime extremists deliberately violate Texas law and promote the use of illicit drugs that harm our communities.”
As you all know from our activist trainings, in 1997, Texas passed a state law requiring that all drug laws be enforced and changed at the state rather than local level. The leaders of these local initiatives argue that because these are “Home Rule” cities, they give authority to these cities to set local law enforcement priorities. Home Rule, granted by state constitution or statute, allows local governments to operate with some autonomy under specific conditions, delineating separate realms of authority for each level of government.
Note: Lawmakers in Lubbock, Texas have officially approved a resolution to put a local marijuana decriminalization initiative on the ballot in May 2024 after declining to enact the reform. Lockhart and Dallas activists are officially collecting signatures to place local marijuana decriminalization initiatives on the November ballot.
Texas has a robust hemp market, a limited medical program, and possession of the plant is still a crime. The only way to change marijuana laws, which are managed at the state level, in Texas is through the legislature due to that 1997 law. The Texas House of Representatives and Senate meet every two years for approximately 140 days. Texas and over 20 other states in the U.S. cannot collect signatures to place an issue on the ballot for a vote to change state law. Additionally, Because of these limitations, Texans must rely on our state elected officials, specifically our state representatives and state senators.
2024 is an election year. In Texas, the primaries could be considered the most important election, since many of our districts are so gerrymandered that there are few competitive races. Therefore, the primary election often determines who will serve the district. Here are the dates of note for this year’s primary elections:
- Last day to register to vote: Feb 5
- First day of early voting: Feb 20
- Last day to apply for ballot by mail: Feb 23
- Last day of early voting: March 1
- Election Day: March 5
Our Texas NORML Marijuana Policy Voter Guide is now available! Click Here
2023 marked yet another successful year for the advancement of marijuana policy reform in the United States. Now, for the first time since the adoption of federal marijuana prohibition in 1937, more Americans reside in a jurisdiction where cannabis is state-legal than do not. (Read the full 2023 report here.)
In April, Delaware lawmakers passed two bills, House Bill 1 and House Bill 2, which became law without the Governor’s signature. House Bill 1 eliminates penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use and reduces penalties for underage possession to a civil fine, while House Bill 2 establishes a licensing system to regulate marijuana production and retail sales in Delaware. Read more.
Maryland’s Democrat Gov. Wes Moore signed legislation (Senate Bill 516) in May implementing a voter-approved referendum governing the production, sale, and use of cannabis for adults. Retail cannabis sales began on July 1. The new law also increased possession limits for registered patients and for the first time allowed them to home-cultivate marijuana. Read more.
In May, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation (HF100/SF73) permitting adults in Minnesota to purchase limited amounts of cannabis from state-licensed retailers, cultivate a restricted number of plants at home, and possess cannabis within certain limits. The legislation also includes provisions for automatic review and expungement of records for past marijuana-related convictions, along with the establishment of a new state agency, the Office of Cannabis Management, to regulate commercial cannabis activities. Read more.
In November, voters approved Issue 2, permitting adults in Ohio to possess limited amounts of marijuana and grow a restricted number of plants at home, alongside establishing a licensed system for commercial cannabis production and retail sale. However, since Issue 2 was passed as a statutory question rather than a constitutional amendment, state lawmakers retain the ability to amend or repeal its provisions. Read more.
In January, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. signed legislation (Act 8680) in the Virgin Islands, regulating the adult-use cannabis market, providing relief to those with prior marijuana-related convictions, and establishing an ‘Office of Cannabis Regulation’ to oversee the commercial cannabis sector. The law permits adults aged 21 or older to purchase cannabis from licensed establishments, consume cannabis at licensed lounges, and allows members of faith-based organizations to home-cultivate limited quantities of cannabis for personal sacramental use, while also affirming the rights of qualified patients to access cannabis. Read more.
In addition to the passage of these new legalization laws, legislators in many states took action to expand the rights and liberties of cannabis consumers. Several states enacted policies protecting consumers from workplace discrimination. Others took steps to facilitate the expungement of criminal records for those previously convicted of certain marijuana-related offenses. In recent years, 24 states have enacted marijuana expungement laws – resulting in the vacating of an estimated 1.7 million criminal records, and 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws prohibiting employers from either firing or refusing to hire employees who consume cannabis in their off-hours.
Lawmakers also continue to pass legislation expanding patients’ access to medical cannabis. This year, Kentucky became the 38th state to enact a regulatory framework regulating the production and dispensing of medical cannabis products to authorized patients. Other states amended their laws to provide patients with increased access to medical marijuana and/or expanded the pool of patients who may use them.
This legislative progress illustrates that state lawmakers are growing more responsive to the public’s demand for meaningful cannabis policy reform. According to recent polling, seven in ten Americans believe that the use of marijuana should be legal. NORML believes that public and political support for legalization and related legislative changes in marijuana laws will continue to grow in 2024 and beyond.
We had been working to bring back our annual Puff n Putt Veteran Fundraiser at Willie Nelson’s Golf Course this April. However, we will have to postpone this event and bring it back next year so stay tuned for the new date!
From Jax James, Executive Director of Texas NORML:
I have been involved in cannabis law reform since 2005, where I first started volunteering with Texas NORML.
I have served as the Volunteer Coordinator, Legislative Director, Deputy Director and now the Executive Director since 2015. During that time I also worked for NORML’s DC office as the State Policy Adviser for a year and a half.
As many of you recently know, I was offered a wonderful opportunity last June and therefore stepped away from my work as State Policy Adviser. I have also recently been working with the Texas NORML team to work on my transition out of the Executive Director role.
Betty Williams will be taking over the role of Interim Executive Director in March. This will be my last livestream I will get to host with all of you. But this is not goodbye, I will still be around in a supportive, advisor role.