cite a poll that found a majority of Texans support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted in May showed a similar finding, with the majority of Texans favoring one or more methods of legalization: 42 percent of Texans were open to the idea of legalizing marijuana, 28 percent say possession of small amounts should be legal, and 14 percent said any amount should be legal. Twenty-seven percent said it should be legal for medical purposes only, and another 27 percent said it should be illegal under any circumstances.Ironically, in the past efforts to wholesale reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession have gotten farther in the legislative process than medical marijuana bills. In 2005 a bill to reduce marijuana possession of less than two ounces to a ticket only offense passed unanimously out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee without any testimony in opposition; even Debbie Riddle, one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, voted to reduce pot penalties. Unfortunately, then-Speaker Tom Craddick and the Calendars Committee would not allow the legislation to get a House floor vote (where we believed at the time we could count a majority), ostensibly to "protect" members from a controversial vote. (Now that we have a different Speaker, maybe it would be worth taking another crack at that bill.)
“If [those numbers] hold even close, then this isn’t really a political liability with the voting public,” Schimberg says. “It’s just a mental block with the representatives and the senators.”
By contrast, medical marijuana couldn't even get a hearing in committee the last couple of sessions. I think that's because counties have major practical and financial interests in reducing pot penalties from a B to C misdemeanor. They would get fine revenue instead of spending money on incarceration, and wouldn't have to pay indigent defense costs for defendants who couldn't afford a lawyer, plus it would reduce overcrowding pressure on county jails - a win-win all around from counties' perspective. By contrast, the loose, fractious coalition of doctors, patients and pot activists behind medical marijuana initiatives has had trouble getting its broad but shallow support at the Legislature to gel, and there's not nearly as compelling a financial argument for medical pot from government's perspective compared to reducing pot penalties overall.
I wish medical marijuana supporters luck and think it'd be great if they could get the job done. I suspect, though, with the coming budget crunch, it might be more difficult to push this issue up the Legislature's priority list than to win a full-blown reduction in marijuana penalties overall.