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Would Texas Legalize Marijuana if Walmart Wanted It?

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As I stood in the Capitol rotunda this week waiting to speak to one of the sheriffs in town for Sheriffs’ Day, a nicely dressed woman in her late thirties asked me for directions to registration. Registration? As a lobbyist? “Yes, she replied. I want to lobby for marijuana.” My confusion was then resolved: she was a citizen at the Capitol to petition her Legislature to make marijuana legal in Texas, a prospect not likely to happen, as noted in today’s The Dallas Morning News

Nearly 300 marijuana enthusiasts made their way to the Texas Capitol on Wednesday to persuade tough-on-crime Republicans to loosen their stance on the drug.

They were sober and dressed to impress. And though lawmakers may give their proposal some consideration, their hopes are likely to go up in smoke.

Fully legalized recreational marijuana as in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington is not likely to happen. But there is a slim change bills will move forward for medical marijuana, not the kind that is smoked but in an extract where the key ingredient, Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, is available for a variety of conditions, from controlling epileptic seizers to easing the suffering of chemotherapy. The poster child for the medical marijuana movement is Alexis Bortell, who has epilepsy, as reported on by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and WFAA television.

Alexis Bortell’s story has attracted attention across Texas.

“Medical cannabis will help me,” the 9-year-old told WFAA.com. “It’s illegal in Texas, and we’re trying to change that.”

Two Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Stephanie Klick of Fort Worth, recently introduced legislation to legalize medical marijuana — not the kind you smoke, but rather cannabis oil. But it won’t be legal anytime soon.

In the meantime, Alexis’ family has decided to move to Colorado, where it is legal.


Probably the biggest obstacle to the legalization of medical marijuana is the fear that people might have fun through inebriation. And that got me thinking about how Alexis Bortell and Walmart are sort of the same – only different. Perhaps I think that because of the $435,000 that Walmart heiress Alice Walton poured into Texas political campaigns last year. I couldn’t find any donations from Alexis or her family. There also is a difference between Alexis and Walmart because the inebriating product Walmart is pushing in this year’s Legislature already is legal. 

Walmart earlier this month filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging Texas’ liquor licensing laws because the company wants to operate so-called “package stores” next to its retail stores, reported the Austin American-Statesman. (For those of you not old enough to know, they’re called package stores because the clerks were supposed to bag up the liquor bottle so your neighbors wouldn’t see you bringing home the devil’s tea.) The company also is challenging a state law that prohibits companies or persons from owning more than five liquor licenses, but close families can pool their licenses to create chains. Representative Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs and Senator Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills, both Republicans, earlier this week filed bills, Senate Bill 609 and House Bill 1225, to end this restraint of trade. Hancock told the Statesman that the issue is one of free enterprise.

“Texas is the only state in the nation with this type of targeted, anti-competitive restriction still in place,” Hancock said in a news release. “Along with most Texans, I believe the government should not be in the position of picking winners and losers in private industry.”

Although the issue is slightly different, Walmart already is fighting it out at the Florida Legislature, with one of the state’s largest grocery chains opposing the Walmart version of liquor sales. In Florida, the issue is not whether Walmart can sell hard liquor but whether it has to have stand-alone stores. The camel’s nose in Texas is to merely let Walmart sell spirits at stores next to the main operation. Walmart already has that in Florida, but now wants to bring it all under one roof

Rep. Greg Steube, the sponsor of the legislation, said he wanted to change laws that dated back to Prohibition to make it easier to do business in Florida.

“I would think that it would be a heck of a lot easier to manage your product not having to build two separate locations, not having to hire two separate employee staffs to manage the big store and your separate store that has certain spirits,” Steube, R-Sarasota, said.

Publix, the state’s largest privately owned company, has made a strategic decision to oppose the proposal because of concern that its big-box rival could take advantage and grab a chunk of the lucrative liquor sales market that Publix has already invested in.

“At the end of the day, Wal-Mart has a very specific business model and Publix does not have the same business model,” Publix lobbyist Teye Reeves said during a committee hearing Wednesday. “And we’re concerned that it will put us at a competitive disadvantage.”

Publix operates dozens of liquor stores across the state, generally next door to one of its grocery stores. Walmart has been more reluctant to embrace that model and instead focused on getting the law changed so that vodka, tequila and other hard liquor could be stocked next to the beer and wine already allowed in grocery stores.

But what of Alexis and her family’s plans to move to Colorado, where marijuana is legal? Colorado’s legalized sales have not been the tax revenue windfall that was promoted when voters approved legalization in 2012, but the sales are earning revenue that’s dedicated to building schools. 

The state’s voters in 2012 legalized pot sales – and taxed them heavily – in part because the constitutional amendment promised that $40 million dollars a year would go toward school construction across the state. In the first full year of sales, however, the state expects to collect only about $17 million in special school taxes levied on the marijuana industry. Still, it’s better than what the state collected the year before: nothing.

“The people who were smoking marijuana before legalization still are. Now, they’re paying taxes,” Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

Of course, for Texas, there is the question of whether you want your state population to walk around stoned. However, consider how much we’re all drinking. In December alone, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission reported that people in Texas consumed 2.9 million gallons of distilled spirits, 4.6 million gallons of wine, 5.7 million gallons of ale, and 38.2 million gallons of beer—and no, dear, I didn’t drink all that beer by myself. Tax revenue from all that libation, approximately $17 million.

There are downsides to all of this as well. The Texas Department of State Health Services reports there are about half a million Texans each year receiving treatment for alcohol and drug abuse. At the end of the 2012 state fiscal year, the Texas criminal justice system housed about 31,000 inmates on drug-related offenses, with another 61,000 on parole or probation. At present, it probably is too early to tell what impact marijuana will have on the residents of the states where it has been legalized.

I don’t want to argue for or against legalizing marijuana or medical marijuana. But I do want to ask the question: Why can’t Alexis get some tender loving care and some THC if Walmart gets its package stores?  

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  • dave in texas

    Why can’t Alexis get some tender loving care and some THC if Walmart gets its package stores?

    You’ve already answered that. Walmart gave hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions; Alexis didn’t. Also, too, a disturbingly large number of people in this state continue to believe that Reefer Madness was a documentary.

    • Indiana Pearl

      So true. An uneducated electorate . . .

      • Seamus

        I think it is less that they think “reefer” is evil and more that they think it is a drug of the “other” that can be used as a cudgel to keep them in line.
        Either way, it’s a ridiculous attitude upon which to form policy.

  • Jed

    it’s a good thing you aren’t arguing for or against anything, because you would have failed (either way).

    incidentally, i understand from media coverage a decade or so ago that those THC pills are sketchy.

    • R.G. Ratcliffe

      I’m not sure about the effectiveness of medical marijuana. I know I’ve been in states that had it, and they often had clinics set up next to a doctor’s office who would issue the script for pretty much anything.

      • Jed

        well. that is neither here nor there as a question of “effectiveness.” does the system get abused? yes (just as it does with prescription meds). does that say anything about whether marijuana has medicinal value? no.

        note i am talking about marijuana, not thc. i don’t know anything about the thc products except that i have read they can have unpleasant effects.

  • Blue Dogs

    I just do NOT see this happening-period!

    • R.G. Ratcliffe

      Walmart liquor stores or medical marijuana?

      • Jed

        costco already has this; i guess the difference for them is the “membership.”

        maybe walmart can just put a stack of “membership” stickers at the entrance. problem solved.

        of course, the state hardly needs more outlets for boone’s farm and bud light.

        • dave in texas

          Yeah, the membership deal makes sense. The first time I went to college, back in the early 70s, Denton was dry, but you could buy really cheap memberships to private clubs. Or you could hitchhike to Lake Dallas, which was my preferred method of alcohol acquisition, as even a cheap membership was beyond my usually broke self.

        • R.G. Ratcliffe

          My understanding is that the Costco liquor stores are actually a separate company and have some sort of local ownership element.

          • Indiana Pearl

            Twin Liquors is competitive.

        • allmaya

          A Costco membership card is not needed to purchase wares at the adjacent liquor stores. In fact, I remember reading that they are prohibited from requiring a membership to make liquor store purchases by TABC regs.


    I doubt Walmart will get what it wants from the Leg. this session…It usually takes a session of two to get major changes in the liquor laws…but they are likely to get at least some of it from the federal courts. The federal court in Austin has been chipping away at our restraint of trade liquor laws a case at a time for some years now. It is likely to do the same to the restricted ownership provisions Walmart is challenging.

    The Legislature actually passed a law allowing the limited use of THC for medical uses back in the early 80s (sponsored by then Sen. Santiesetban from El Paso) but it was never implemented, probably because of federal opposition.

  • John Johnson

    Name me one thing that the Big’s wanted in Texas that they have not received. It’s all about the money. Bottomline. Eventually, they get their way.

    • Gunslinger

      You’re halfway right, JJ. It’s all about the money if legislators can turn that money into votes. If that money can’t translate into votes, they won’t get re-elected. Money doesn’t help them much in that scenario.

      • Jed

        mm, you’re giving voters too much credit.

        yes, you lose if you don’t get the most votes. but what is the #1 factor in getting the most votes?


    Assume you saw Walmart’s big announcement of pay increases. Sounds good til you realize that more than half of their 1,000,000 plus work force now make LESS THAN $9 per hour. Even after the “big raise” they will be making only $10 per hour….What makes this worse is that Walmart specializes in providing only 30 hour or less work for a large percentage of its workers….Try living on $270 per week BEFORE TAXES, etc. This is why Walmart is alleged to have a major program to inform its employees of how to take advantage of food stamps, Medicaid, Chips and other “safety net” programs. Hurrah for Walmart! (That’s one of the reasons I don’t shop there…Costco pays its employees a living wage AND provides benefits.)

  • Lucas Jackson

    The question is not the effectiveness of medical marijuana.Anyone with the Google can find the supporting clinical research. The question is in regard to the thoughtfulness of our Texas legislators. Over 150 million Americans in 23 states have access to the known benefits of medical marijuana. Its not a mystery and its not an experiment. Every poll done in the last 5 years or so indicates that an overwhelming majority of Texans understand the benefits and want the benefits of medical marijuana for their friends and family members in need. Texas needs to expand its definition of progress from that of oil production and home construction to include the needs of children and families such as the Bortells. If not, we will will see more and more families hit the congested Texas roadways to a destination where the needs of citizens are recognized in terms that are not solely related to a job.

    • Jed

      i of course agree with you on the medical benefits, which are by now well established and popularly understood, but warning that failure to act might make people leave texas doesn’t strike me as the strongest argument. those who disagree with you would say “good riddance,” and for my part i too would love to see a couple million people leave texas (though perhaps not the same people).

    • Smoley

      I’d have no problem with it as long as it was prescribed in THC pill form and regulated like other controlled pain medication. If you’re caught with the pills and you don’t have a prescription bottle with your name on it, you’re off to jail. I’d also want the doctors who prescribe the THC pills to be watched as they are with oxycontin prescriptions, at least for the first 5 years THC pills are available in TX.

  • Steve!

    How about passing Naishtat’s affirmative defense bill first?

  • Nice piece. Really glad you’re back at the keyboard, RG.

    • R.G. Ratcliffe


  • Chris

    With Alaska becoming the first “red” state to legalize cannabis, maybe there is hope for Texas. Frankly, I cannot understand the far right’s opposition to cannabis legalization. Granted, it could be solely based on religious beliefs, which is their right. However, shouting from the mountaintops about freedoms and free enterprise in almost every debate except where it pertains to cannabis is somewhat mind boggling. In my opinion, you cannot argue about freedom on one issue and take a completely opposite view just because it pertains to the “devil’s grass” when alcohol is also legal. Am I missing something?
    Signed – a former Texas Republican tired of a double standard

  • David Phillips

    Just want to note that THC is not the active ingredient that is being isolated to treat epilepsy. CBD is the chemical that provides medicinal benefits while THC is responsible for the Euphoria.