The State of Weed: A Little Progress Budding In Texas

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Update (Thursday May 7, 2015): Last night the same committee that passed a measure to reduce penalties on possession by a 4-2 vote, passed HB 2165 a bill granting full legalization on a vote of 5-2. The bill’s author David Simpson is a conservative’s conservative, and has made his case for the bill on religious grounds saying, “I don’t believe when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.”

Heather Fazio, the Texas Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said of the legalization bill, “Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in the Lone Star State. Texas voters recognize that punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement resources and an affront to individual liberty. It appears most of the committee members agree.”

Original story:

Cannabis is big business, but whose business it is depends on where you live. In four states,  Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia voters have opted to turn it into a valuable cash crop and tourism industry, while many more have allowed for its compassionate use for medical purposes.

In Texas, which talks a big freedom and liberty game, the profits still flow to the hands of cartels and black market entrepreneurs while sick patients beg politicians to allow their doctors to grant relief.

Those working for change in the Lone Star State got a glimmer of hope as HB 507 by Joe Moody (D-El Paso) to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts was voted out of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on Monday 4-2.

Currently, an offender could be charged with a class B misdemeanor, receive up to 180 days and be levied a $2,000 fine for 2 ounces or less. Moody’s bill would deflate those charges for up to one ounce, making it a civil violation with a fine of up to $250, as well as remove the threat of arrest, jail time or criminal record. In a nation where “Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession,” this also has major social justice implications.

“I don’t believe I’m overstating the significance of this vote to say that it was historic. No measure like this has ever been filed before in Texas, so having it reported favorably from committee was a huge step,” Rep. Moody said.

The progress represents a giant leap for a body that previously prioritized being tough on crime. In this case, greater freedom may just be a byproduct of the latest craze to reduce government spending, as that “tough” posture has cost the state billions in enforcement and prosecution over the years.

Unfortunately, the legislative process was constructed to halt legislation not pass it, and therefore even with 40 bipartisan co-sponsors you can expect Willie Nelson to remain an outlaw when this session is over. It is unclear if the bill will reach the House floor or wilt in the Calendars Committee, either way it would still require approval by the Senate and have to avoid the Governor’s veto pen.

Much like the fight over marriage equality, decriminalization has won the support of the people, while their “representative” government remains skeptical. According to a poll taken last year by the Texas Tribune, 49% of Texans believe the plant should at least be legal “in small amounts for any purpose,” with only 23% believing it should be illegal “in all cases.” When you account views on medical usage, a whopping 77% think it’s time to reform our current laws.

That is evident in the advancement of House and Senate versions of the “Compassionate Use Act,” a medical marijuana bill that passed its respective public health committees. The bipartisan legislation would allow some patients to have access to low-THC medicine. For many patients it is not enough. The legislature is often slow to act and when it does, it does so in small increments that make its biebiennial convening all the more frustrating for activists.

Heather Fazio is the Texas Political Director the Marijuana Policy Project and she responded by saying that, “Texas legislators seem to have either a lack of understanding or a lack of compassion for the patients who are suffering from debilitating illnesses. 47% of Americans have access to this natural medicine; Texans shouldn’t be second class citizens.”

For those who see any reform as progress, it is, but for those who suffer from a lack of access that progress comes at a glacial pace.

One Texas pediatric neurologist testified that, “if CBD (Cannabidiol) weren’t available in the number of states it is available in, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today,” saying that, “the human data on CBD use is very encouraging,”….but what frustrates him is that he “can’t prescribe CBD to patients in my state, in Texas.”

Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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About Author

Joe Deshotel

Joe was born and raised in Beaumont, Tx, but live music and politics brought him to Austin. He has worked in and around government and elections for over a decade including for a member of US Congress, the Texas Legislature, the Mayor of Austin. He currently serves as Communications Director for the Travis County Democratic Party. He is most interested in transportation, energy and technology issues. He also likes Texas Hold'em and commuting on his electric skateboard. Follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.

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