‘Legalize marijuana,’ SGA says to Legislature

On Feb. 21, UTSA Student Government Association (SGA) passed a resolution calling on the Texas Legislature to legalize marijuana and use the subsequent tax revenue to offset spending cuts made to higher education.
“Marijuana legalization is picking up a lot of steam,” said COLFA Senator Jacob Lostoski, who authored the bill. “Nineteen states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for medical use. These are numbers that, 20 years ago, would be nonexistent,” Lostoki told The Paisano.
According to the Texas Tribune, the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) contended that decriminalization of marijuana in Texas would save the state $750 million per year, while also saving 50,000 people from having an arrest on their criminal record.
Proposals in the Legislature to lessen the penalties for marijuana possession include a recent bill by Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), who introduced HB 184 on Feb. 6. The bill would reclassify possession of up to one ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor, which would mean that individuals caught carrying small amounts of marijuana would no longer face up to 180 days in prison.
While six states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, Colorado and Washington became the first to legalize it for recreational use. Despite the legalization and decriminalization in many different states, it remains classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law—thus, it is still a federal crime to posses or sell the drug.
On Feb. 26, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department is reviewing the federal response to state laws that legalize marijuana.
“We are, I think, in our last stages of that review and are trying to make a determination as to what the policy ramifications are going to be—what our international obligations are. There are a whole variety of things that go into this determination,” Holder said, according to Politico.
The SGA resolution stated that former Attorney General Jocelyn Elders has expressed support for marijuana legalization. SGA’s resolution also noted that, while 1,200 people in the U.S. die each year from tobacco use, there is no evidence to support the notion that marijuana use is fatal.
“People should have the right to use marijuana if they choose to because they’re not harming anyone else, and a lot of evidence suggests that they’re really not doing any major harm to themselves either,” Lostoski said.
The resolution does not solely focus on marijuana, as Lostoski noted. “We are also offering a solution to help fund our schools and get us closer to the funding that we need if we want to become Tier One,” Lostoski said.
From fiscal year 2010-2011 through fiscal year 2012-2013, Texas cut funding to UTSA from $281 million to $260 million, despite the increased student enrollment. SGA’s resolution anticipates funding for UTSA to drop by 10 percent in 2014.
Compounding the problem of decreased state funding, said Lostoski, is the Hazelwood Act, which “requires state universities and colleges to cover tuition and mandatory fees for up to 150 credit hours for qualified veterans,” according to the San Antonio Express-News. The program has gained popularity since it was expanded by the Legislature in 2009 to allow those who qualify to transfer their credit hours to a dependent younger than 25. Since 2009, UTSA has gone from waiving $1.5 million in fees linked to the Hazelwood Act to $7.6 million, according to the Express-News. That number is expected to top $8 million next year, Lostoski stated.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, more than $110 million in fees were waived by universities across the state in 2012 as a result of the Hazelwood Act. Because the Legislature does not provide relief to universities for fees waived under the Hazelwood Act, many lawmakers have begun to call it an “unfunded mandate,” according to the Express-News.
The SGA resolution contended that, according to a recent Gallup poll, 62 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds favor marijuana legalization. However, although the national numbers seem to indicate that the Legislature may eventually hear a marijuana bill—that same Gallup poll found that 50 percent of respondents favor legalization, an increase from 23 percent in 1985—gaining support in Texas could be an unlikely prospect. According to a 2011 Texas Lyceum poll, just 33 percent of residents in the Lone Star State favored legalizing marijuana.
However, Lostoski is confident that the momentum in the national polls will continue to grow. “As the facts are getting out there, and as we’ve studied marijuana more, we’ve learned more about it. And as the public learns, as well, I think popular support will only increase,” Lostoski said.
Although it carries no legal weight, the resolution will be presented by SGA to members of the Texas Legislature in the coming weeks. All resolutions passed by SGA represent the stance of the entire student body.