Not Blowing Smoke: GOP Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana

The latest effort to loosen marijuana laws comes from Republicans. Congresswoman Nancy Mace (R-SC) has introduced a bill to federally decriminalize marijuana. Mace announced several GOP co-sponsors of the bill, which would eliminate federal penalties for pot and allow states to decide their own laws with regard to the drug.

Mace and her colleagues may be capitalizing on a notable shift in public perception of marijuana. Recent polls show support for marijuana legalization has reached an all-time high, with a majority of Americans now in favor. Even U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas recently questioned the logic of federal marijuana laws. All of this has marijuana reform advocates in Texas feeling encouraged. "The tide has already turned at the federal level, and it's time that legislation keep up with that," says Jax Finkel James, Executive Director of the advocacy group Texas NORML. "This is an important bill that does a lot of things for cannabis law reform, and for making sure that people are no longer jailed for possession of this plant."

Mace's bill would regulate marijuana at the federal level similar to alcohol, and prohibit its use by anyone under 21. It notably focuses on decriminalization, which is different than legalization. "Decriminalizing basically allows for the states to create their own laws," says James. "That might be just to remove the criminal penalty, or it might be to create a regulated cannabis market."

So far, 36 states (including Texas) allow some type of medical cannabis use, while 18 states have legalized recreational use. James hopes legislation like this will lead to Texas loosening its marijuana laws even more. "It's important we make sure products that people are purchasing are well regulated and safe to consume," she says. "So that means making sure we create a market for those who are 21 and up to be able to legally access this plant."

Photo: Getty Images Europe

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