President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he will pardon all prior federal offenses for simple marijuana possession, saying “No one should be in jail just for using marijuana.”
While the news was historic and applauded by many in the industry, it is but a first step toward broader reform and important to point out that the President’s action affects only the 6,500 incarcerated in federal prisons. The estimated 40,000 serving sentences in state jails and prisons over the same offenses are not affected by Biden's pardon.
Although the President called on governors to follow his example and said that he would ask the Attorney General and the Department of Health and Human Services to review marijuana's classification under federal law as a Schedule I drug, the same classification as heroin and LSD.
Despite Biden's urging, Texas Governor Greg Abbott made it clear that he will not allow pardons in the Lone Star State, reported Chron.
"Texas is not in the habit of taking criminal justice advice from the leader of the defund police party and someone who has overseen a criminal justice system run amuck with cashless bail and a revolving door for violent criminals,” stated Renae Eze, Abbott’s spokesperson. “The Governor of Texas can only pardon individuals who have been through the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles system with a recommendation for pardon."
In January, Abbott agreed to reduce criminal penalties for marijuana possession to a Class C misdemeanor. Possession of up to 2 ounces is still considered a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. More than 2 ounces could result in up to a year in jail, while more than 4 ounces is considered a felony. But, the governor never supported cannabis legalization.
Abbott’s new statement compelled his Democratic gubernatorial opponent Beto O'Rourke to declare what he'd do if elected.
When I’m governor, we will finally legalize marijuana in Texas and expunge the records of those arrested for marijuana possession.
The very next day, O’Rourke restated his position in another tweet with a video from his recent “Vote ‘Em Out” rally where Texas music legend and cannabis advocate Willie Nelson sang “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.”
Cannabis In Texas
A poll from August revealed that the majority of Texans support legalizing adult-use marijuana. Of those surveyed, 55% said they either support or strongly support legalization.
What about medical marijuana? As expected, some 72% of those questioned confirmed they support or strongly support legalizing the plant for medicinal purposes.
What is the current status of medical cannabis in the state? Isn't it already legal?
Though medical cannabis is legal, it is strictly regulated. Only patients with cancer, autism, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and multiple sclerosis qualify for medical marijuana. In 2021, there were some 7,000 MMJ patients in the state registry with only 348 doctors able to prescribe it.
Texas first legalized MMJ seven years ago under the Compassionate Use Act, which allowed patients with intractable epilepsy to acquire and use cannabis oil containing less than 0.5%. The program has since been expanded to include more qualifying conditions and allowing 1% THC.
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