UPDATED: Cannabis, Texas: How Close Are We to Legalization in the Lone Star State?
Photo by it was 3 a.m. via flickr
Update: Sito Negron, communications director for Senator Jose Rodriguez contacted us to say that while Rodriguez has advocated for a review of our marijuana policies, he never has advocated for its use. \ The buzz about cannabis reform is still going strong, well after the very first recreational pot shops in Colorado opened their doors to long lines and sellout crowds. Folks are excited about the impending change, and rightfully so. Marijuana has cleared some major milestones, jumping in some states from outlawed to outright legal, and taking baby-steps toward reform in others.
We all know where Colorado and Washington are on the marijuana reform scale; they're all for legal pot, and it certainly seems to be popular in their respective states. And when you dig through the all of media hype over the success in Colorado, there are signs of political movement toward in other states as well.
But that begs the question; where Texas is at in all of this legalization hubbub? Are we any closer to a rational policy on cannabis use, or will we drag our conservative feet until the other 49 states have come around?
Well, we've got a few of those answers for you in our Cannabis, Texas roundup. Here are the milestones Texas has made in the fight for legalization and decriminalization over the past year. And yes, there's a nod to Kinky Friedman. We like him too.
Texas politicians across party lines voiced their support of the legalization movement. Highlights of the 2013 political movement: Texas rep Steve Stockman signed in support of the Respect State Marijuana Laws act, a federal bill that would respect state cannabis laws, much to the surprise of just about everybody, considering his staunchly conservative track record.
Senator Jose Rodriguez of El Paso hosted the Border Legislative Conference, which aims to educate lawmakers in Mexico and Texas about the upside of legalization.
Rodriguez also became the first of the 31 Texas State Senators to voice his support of the cannabis reform movement, which is super awesome. Rodriguez also invited Texas NORML director Cheyanne Weldon to speak on the marijuana legislation and marijuana initiatives during the conference. Who knew El Paso could be so progressive, eh?
Marijuana advocate and Texas legend Kinky Friedman announced his candidacy for Agriculture Commissioner, and noted that cannabis and hemp legalization would be a major priority within his campaign. Not nearly as surprising, but just as awesome. Why the hell not?
Oh, and the Texas Libertarian Party and the League of Women Voters of Texas proudly stated their support for the legalization movement.
There are also a growing number of Texas politicians that support the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana in our great state. Here are the folks who have been working their political tails off to advocate for marijuana
use policy reform:
Congressman Beto O'Rourke
Senator Jose Rodriguez
Senator Steve Stockman
Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr
Rep. Elliot Naishtat
Former State Rep. Miriam Martinez
Former State Rep. Terry Keel
And, of course, the always loveable Kinky Friedman
Two cannabis bills were brought in front of the Texas Lege in 2013. Neither were passed, but more consideration was given to them than in the years past. HB 184, a bill that was reintroduced by Rep. Harold Dutton, aimed to amend the harsh penalties for possessing marijuana. The bill would have reduced the penalties up to 1 ounce from a Class B misdemeanor, in which you can face 180 days of jail time and a whopping $2,000 fine, to a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. The bill was not voted to calendar for a debate by the full House, unfortunately, which left it dead in the water.
HB 594, a bill reintroduced by Elliot Naishtat, who has been essential in introducing this bill in one form or another over the years, would have changed quite a bit for medical marijuana use in Texas. It is currently illegal for doctors in Texas to discuss the potentials of cannabis use as a medical treatment with their patients, and if they do, they risk losing their medical licenses. HB 594 would have kept that from happening, and also would have allowed patients to present a medical defense -- with physician recommendation, of course -- when facing criminal charges for cannabis possession. Ultimately, the bill wasn't voted on.
The 2013 polls show that the majority of Texans support legalization or decriminalization of cannabis. According to major polls conducted in Texas, 58 percent of Texans support outright legalization, and 79 percent of Texans oppose jail time for marijuana possession. That basically summarizes the collective viewpoint of Texans on marijuana policy for 2013, and it clearly shows support for some sort of marijuana reform. Not too shabby for our conservative state, now is it.
Groups like Texas NORML and MPP, or Marijuana Policy Project, that lobby for cannabis reform at a state and national level, grew exponentially during 2013.
From the High Times Doobie Awards in Austin to the Texas Regional NORML Conference, there were more than 100 cannabis events in Texas during 2013.
NORML expanded into new territory, with chapters opening in El Paso and Lubbock, bringing the total number of NORML advocacy groups in Texas to 13, and the number of cannabis organizations in Texas to at least 15. They also created the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, along with Austin 420, to provide outreach, education, patient empowerment, and advocacy for medical marijuana use.
The United States v. Hemp Farming came to a head. Hemp prohibition began back in the late 1930's, when Congress banned the "violent and dangerous drug." In reality, though, hemp -- the actual hemp plant, not the marijuana misnomer -- is nothing more than a plant related to marijuana by way of the Cannabaceae plant family. It's also probably one of the most useful fibers in the world, and it contains a very low THC content -- about 0.3 percent -- and cannot be used to get high. It's still illegal, though, despite the actual facts that prove the illegitimacy of those "violent and dangerous" claims.
In June 2013, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on an amendment to the annual agriculture bill that would allow farmers to grow hemp. Removing the ban on hemp would be a major milestone for farmers, as hemp is extremely easy to grow, great for aerating the soil, and is used in multiple industries within the United States. We use a ton of it in this country, but it all has to be imported due to the restrictions on growing it.
Ultimately, the bill failed with a final count of 195 to 234, due in part to the majority of Texas House representatives voting against it, with some claiming that the passage of the bill would make the war on drugs more difficult, since hemp physically resembles marijuana.
There's a bright side, though. Out of the 36 Texas representatives in the U.S. House, 10 logical, educated representatives voted for it. Here they are, in case you'd like to send them a card made of hemp or something for a job well done.
Joaquin Castro (D) Henry R. Cuellar (D) John Culberson (R) Lloyd Doggett (D) Sheila Jackson-Lee (D) Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) Robert Francis "Beto" O'Rourke (D) Ted Poe (R) Steve Stockman (R) Filemon Vela (D)
Law enforcement showed signs of solidarity with the legalization movement. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo stated that his priority is violent crime, not marijuana. He confirmed support for Attorney General Eric Holder's stance on mandatory minimums as well. Lubbock's police chief was receptive to the new NORML chapter in his city. Waco officials are considering a removal of the highly ineffective DARE program.
LEAP, or Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a nonprofit organization of criminal justice professionals who "bear personal witness to the wasteful futility and harms of our current drug policies," openly rallies for policy change of marijuana laws.
All in all, Texas showed some real progress in regard to marijuana reform. Support for responsible cannabis use no longer causes a quick political death for Texas politicians, which means things are definitely on the right track. And we all know we're cooler than some of the other states, with our Panhandle and all, so chances are good we'll continue to make progress in our own ways. Will we be the next Colorado? Probably not, but there are sure signs we aren't still stuck in the weed dark ages, either.
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