Can cannabis restore the Texas economy? State Rep. Joe Moody files cannabis legalization bills

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FILE – In this March 22, 2019 file photo, shows marijuana buds being sorted into a prescription jar at Compassionate Care Foundation’s medical marijuana dispensary in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Voters in four states could embrace broad legal marijuana sales on Election Day, setting the stage for a watershed year for the industry that could snowball into neighboring states as well as reshape policy on Capitol Hill. The Nov. 3, 2020, contests will take place in markedly different regions of the country, New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana and approval of the proposals would highlight how public acceptance of cannabis is cutting across geography, demographics and the nation’s deep political divide. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Texas lawmakers may have found a solution to saving the economy while encouraging people to stay at home: cannabis legalization. 

On Tuesday, State Reps. Joe Moody and Erin Zweiner announced a two-pronged plan to legalize cannabis legalization in the Lone Star State.

Moody filed House Bill 447, which would legalize cannabis and create a retail market for products that include marijuana. Cannabis would remain illegal for people under 21.

The bill stipulates that revenue collected from sales would go to a fund to support teacher retirement funds and teacher salaries in Texas public schools. 

Zweiner filed a complementary bill, House Bill 441, which would use existing legal procedures in nuanced ways such that possession of marijuana equivalent to personal use could result in a ticket and minimal fine. Most important, H.R. 441 includes that the individual would not be arrested or face lasting criminal consequences. The bill is the decriminalization effort championed by Moody in past sessions. The measure passed by a supermajority in the House in 2019 but failed to advance in the Senate. 

Moody is hoping to stimulate the Texas economy through cannabis legalization the same way states like Colorado and Washington have profited. 

According to Moody’s office, projections estimate $1 billion per year in state tax revenue that Texas stands to gain from cannabis legalization. Moreover, the state would save about $700 million a year by moving away from the current cannabis arrest model. 

“One thing that’s become crystal clear in the years since I began working on cannabis policy is that there’s no moral or public safety issue involved here,” said Moody.

“There is very much a fiscal issue, though, and numerous other states are now raking in tax revenue from cannabis sales that Texas needs more than ever. We can’t say that Texas is the best state for business when we’re literally turning it away.”

The cannabis industry employs about 250,000 full-time jobs — more than four times the number of coal industry workers in the country.

States are capitalizing on tax revenue and job opportunities offered by the cannabis industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost every state with a legal cannabis industry declared businesses like dispensaries essential during COVID-19 shutdown and shelter-in-place orders. 

According to a recent study, national cannabis legalization could accrue $128.8 billion in tax revenue and 1.6 million new jobs. 

In April, the state of Illinois brought in close to $37.3 million in cannabis sales during its first full month of sales during a stay-at-home order. 

Cannabis users in Oregon purchased $89 million worth of products in April, which is a 45-percent increase from April 2019. 

A poll released on Monday reports that 68 percent of Americans support cannabis legalization and experts in the industry point to the added social benefits.

Brayden Sutton, founder and CEO of 1933 Industries, a multi-million dollar cannabis company based out of Vancouver and is now a leader in the American cannabis market, spoke to KTSM 9 News exclusively about what cannabis legalization could mean to the Borderland. 

“We could easily point to British Columbia, which has about the same size black market and convert those new legal sales into state dollars,” said Sutton. “It’s an absurd amount of money.”

Better yet, says Sutton, profit from legal cannabis sales means illicit sales are stymied. 

“It’s a large amount of money and power no longer in the hands of criminal organizations, which directly translated into more crime, violence, and human trafficking,” Sutton continued. 

Texas has one of the highest marijuana arrest rates in the country.

Five states voted to legalize cannabis use last week, adding to the growing number of states seeking to leverage the economic success of other states. 

New Jersey, Arizona and Montana voted to legalize marijuana, while South Dakota and Mississippi voted for medical marijuana legalization. 

KTSM put a call out on social media to learn El Pasoans thoughts on the topic of cannabis legalization and found many are overwhelmingly supportive. 

“I think Texans love the oil industry because it makes them filthy rich, so they should just look at the cannabis industry as their new oil,” says Zoe Gemoets Rubio, founder and president of Chica Chat in El Paso, a nonprofit organization that works to empower women in El Paso through cultivating entrepreneurship and leadership skills.

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