Majority Of Texas Voters Back Marijuana Legalization, And Three In Four Support Decriminalization, Poll Finds
by benny yang on Dec 21, 2022
The University of Texas/Texas Politics Project Poll additionally found that a strong majority (72 percent) back decriminalizing marijuana by making the offense punishable by a citation and fine without the threat of jail time.
As lawmakers prepare for the 2023 session, the survey sends a clear message that Texas voters are eager for reform, with 55 percent saying that they believe cannabis possession should be legal for any purpose either in any amount or small amounts. Another 28 percent said marijuana should be legal for medical purposes only, while just 17 percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all.
Democrats came out strongest in favor of reform, with 72 percent expressing support for broad legalization and another 19 percent saying it should be legal only for medical use. Independents followed, at 57 percent support for legalization for any purpose and another 31 percent support for medical cannabis legalization alone. Republicans were the least supportive, but 41 percent still said the plant should be legalized for any use and another 36 percent favor allowing medical marijuana only.
The poll separately asked Texas voters if they “support or oppose reducing the punishment under Texas law for the possession or use of small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine,” which is effectively a decriminalization model.
There was majority support for the proposal (72 percent). That includes respondents across virtually all demographics surveyed, including Democrats (84 percent), independents (66 percent) and Republicans (63 percent).
Texas lawmakers will have a chance to enact such a reform during the upcoming legislative session, but it remains to be seen whether the conservative legislature will once again brush aside public opinion on the issue.
Lawmakers have already filed several reform bills for 2023, including legislation to legalize marijuana for adult-use, expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program and make changes to hemp rules. The prospects of those proposals advancing remains in question, however.
The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session. Lawmakers have since been unable to pass additional expansive cannabis bills in recent sessions.
For his part, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said that he doesn’t believe people should be incarcerated over low-level marijuana possession. However, the governor incorrectly suggested that lawmakers have already adopted the policy statewide.
This latest poll from the University of Texas involved interviews with 1,200 self-declared registered voters from December 2-11, with a +/- 2.89 percentage point margin of error. It builds on a number or prior surveys similarly underscoring that Texans are ready for a cannabis policy change.
A poll released last year found that a strong majority of Texans—including most Republicans—support even broader reform to legalize marijuana for adult use. Another survey found that 60 percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use” and about nine in ten voters think marijuana should be legalized for some purpose.
Additionally, a poll released in June found that cannabis legalization is more popular in Texas than the state’s top elected officials and President Joe Biden.
House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said in September that he will work to enact criminal justice reform in the 2023 session, and he again expressed support for lowering penalties for marijuana possession.
Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D), who was the Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Texas this year, has long advocated for an end to marijuana prohibition and included the reform as a tenet of his campaign. But he ultimately lost the race to Abbott.
There were some drug policy reforms that did advance in the legislature during last year’s session, but not necessarily at the pace that advocates had hoped to see.
A bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and another to require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans were enacted.
The Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing decriminalization of marijuana possession in 2018, but that was later rescinded.
Meanwhile, there’s been a surge of local action on marijuana issues under home rule laws in Texas over recent years. That includes last month’s election, which saw five Texas cities approve local cannabis decriminalization ballot initiatives.
Voters in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos had the chance to weigh in on the reform—and each of them passed the cannabis measures on their ballots.
In Harker Heights, the City Council voted to repeal the decriminalization initiative shortly after it was approved by voters on the November ballot, prompting activists to launch a signature drive to put the issue back in voters’ hands.
Ground Game Texas, which was behind a number of successful local decriminalization measures that passed this year, turned in those signatures to repeal the Council’s action last week.
While only Harker Heights has moved to repeal the initiative altogether so far, activists are also closely monitoring a recent action by Hays County Criminal District Attorney Wes Mau, who submitted a request for a legal opinion on the San Marcos decriminalization measure from state Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Meanwhile, in Killeen, the City Council decided to press pause on implementing the local voter-approved decriminalization ordinance, arguing that there are legal concerns that lawmakers need to sort through before potentially giving it their approval.
They lifted that pause and officially approved the ordinance earlier this month. But the local lawmakers amended it to remove a provision that would prohibit police from using the smell of cannabis as probable cause for a search or seizure.
In Denton, local officials didn’t pursue an outright repeal of the reform measure that voters approved there, but they did initially challenge key provisions, saying that the city isn’t authorized to direct police to make the prescribed policy changes. However, the mayor and city manager have said that low-level cannabis offenses will continue to be treated as low law enforcement priorities.
Austin voters strongly approved a marijuana decriminalization measure this past May—and it doesn’t appear that the city has grappled with any major legal battles over the modest policy change.
Meanwhile, San Antonio, the second largest Texas city by population, could get the chance to locally decriminalize marijuana in May 2023 after activists announced in October that they were launching a signature drive for ballot placement.