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Cannabis advocates tweak their legislative priorities amid Texas’ budget shortfall

Published: Jan. 27, 2021 at 7:56 PM CST
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - Late last year, when it was looking as if the state would have a nearly $5 billion budget deficit heading into the legislative session, cannabis advocates were optimistic they could advance their agenda to legalize the drug in Texas.

Legalizing cannabis products would add another revenue stream that could bolster the state’s pandemic-battered budget, they argued.

“They would help fund schools. They would help fund teachers. We could even talk about property taxes,” said Jax Finkel, the executive director of Texas NORML, a group that aims to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults.”

However, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced earlier this year that the budget deficit would be closer to $1 billion.

The better-than-expected budget outlook means lawmakers likely will not have as big of an appetite to entertain alternative revenue streams like legalizing marijuana and casinos.

“The improved revenue picture — just general revenue that we get from taxes from the most part — the fact that that’s not as bad as what we were hearing last summer definitely reduces any kind of urgency or immediacy for something like legalizing marijuana,” said Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget analyst at the Austin think tank Every Texan.

She said it is more likely that state lawmakers will lean on federal funding and accounting techniques to balance the budget for the next two years.

Finkel agreed that the rosier budget picture removes the sense of urgency in legalizing cannabis but said the deficit “started some wheels turning that were really important.”

Those wheels could push lawmakers to more seriously consider legalization next session, she said.

For now, Finkel said her group and other advocates will focus heavily on bills that would decriminalize cannabis and expand access to medical cannabis.

At least 18 bills have already been filed in these areas, and Finkel said more are expected.

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