Killeen-Heights residents react to bill that would legalize marijuana

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In the coming months, Texas elected officials will consider legislation to relax penalties associated with marijuana usage for recreational purposes.

Bills filed last week by state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, and state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for recreational usage.

Harker Heights resident Destiny Smith says the measure promoted by elected Democrat officials is long overdue.

“Everybody has a vice; some of us drink, some of us smoke,” Smith said, adding there hasn’t been proof to show marijuana is “truly a danger.”

In addition to permitting individuals to make decisions pertaining to their own health and recreation, Gutierrez estimated legalizing marijuana could create up to 30,000 Texas jobs, which Moody said could add revenue in the hundred millions — if not billions.

Vicente Sederberg law firm that fights for legalizing marijuana usage estimated more than 1.5 million adults 21 and older in Texas consume cannabis on a monthly basis.

“If the state regulated cannabis for adult use, it would see an estimated $2.7 billion per year in cannabis sales,” according to a study released by the firm. “A regulated adult-use cannabis market in Texas would result in hundreds of new businesses, creating an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 direct jobs in the cannabis industry, as well as tens of thousands of indirect and induced jobs.”

Additionally, the state is projected to save $311 million per year ending misdemeanor arrests and prosecutions for low-level cannabis possession, the study stated.

Possession of any amount of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor in the state of Texas, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Possessing more than 2 ounces carries a punishment of up to a year in jail, while more than 4 ounces is a felony offense. Marijuana concentrate possession, including vape pens with more than 0.3 percent THC, is a felony which carries a punishment of between six months and two years in the state prison system.

However, in keeping with the prediction of Republican elected officials opposing the measures, local state Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, said too many questions remain, prohibiting his support of legalizing marijuana.

“Though the case can be made that legalizing recreational marijuana could create more state revenue, there are so many other questions that must be answered,” said Buckley, a Killeen veterinarian. “Societal costs, increased use by teens, addiction, traffic related accidents, medical emergencies, brain development, and mental health are all important and potentially problematic consequences related to legalization.”

The economic benefit alone does not meet Buckley’s threshold for supporting such legislation, he said.

In addition to the economic impact, Smith mentioned the improved safety possibilities for legalizing marijuana.

“I personally would much rather go to a dispensary where I know I am getting something legitimate rather than buying something off the street that may be harmful for me,” Smith said. “I like homeopathic remedies — more natural.”

Under the Compassionate Use Act, cannabis oils with low levels of THC were approved for usage for people with epilepsy, beginning in 2015. Last year, Texas lawmakers expanded the list qualifying conditions to include conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and ALS.

“I am hoping we get there sooner rather than later,” Smith said. “Decriminalization is not enough: this is 2020, there hasn’t been enough proof to show that it’s not a good thing at this point. There hasn’t been anything to show that there has been reckless or careless behavior with recreational use.”

Smith said she would like to see marijuana legalized and approved for use, and the stigma associated with recreational use dissolved.

A growing trend, recreational marijuana is now legal in 15 states.

Across the country, public support for marijuana reforms was on prominent display in the Nov. 3 election as four states — New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Arizona — approved ballot measures to open up recreational cannabis markets. Mississippi approved the creation of a medical marijuana program.

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