Does Legal Weed Have a Chance in Texas?

State Senator Donna Campbell is perhaps the best emblem of the uphill battle that the legalization of marijuana, medical or otherwise, faces in Texas. She's also a physician, and so her opinion about whether medical weed, at least, will do patients any good might hold a little extra weight with her colleagues. And that's the problem: She is staunchly unconvinced.

Just take her recent responses to veterans, who are seeking to use legal weed to ease their PTSD, as example.

First, last month, she interrupted a veteran making the case for why vets need medical marijuana by telling him, “We already legalized medical cannabis.” Which was a confusing statement to make, given that it is false: Last year, the Texas Legislature made cannabis oil legal for, specifically, severe epileptic patients who have uncontrollable seizures, which means nothing for vets (and maybe not even those patients, given that the language in the bill makes it borderline impossible for them to obtain the oils). In any case, according to Texas Cannabis News, Campbell's misstatement prompted another vet to reach out to her to say how disappointed he was in what she said, providing Campbell with several inspirational stories of ill children who have immensely benefited from medical marijuana elsewhere. Here's how Campbell responded to him — and in a nutshell, this pretty much shows how hard pro-legal-weed groups are going to have to work for one more ounce of progress:

“Thanks for forwarding these posts, but I am looking for far more than anectdotal [sic] evidence. Heck, I could write a book on all the anectdotal remedies I’ve heard people swear worked when they came into the ER, even though they were often masking the symptoms of a serious disease or creating their own seperate [sic] and harmful side effects. Like I said, your work is cut out in convincing me and it’s going to take overwhelming scientific data, but I appreciate your continued feedback.”

In other words, Campbell's not convinced by stories like that of ten-year-old Alexis Bortell, who used to have up to 20 seizures a day before she was given medical marijuana in Colorado and now rarely ever has them.

Jason Miller, with the Houston chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that it would be unlikely that Texas lawmakers could push a bill legalizing recreational weed until medical weed goes through. But not totally impossible. Last year, pro-pot groups across the country rejoiced after a Texas House committee somehow managed to pass a bill completely legalizing and deregulating marijuana. The best part: The bill was authored by a Republican representative, David Simpson, a conservative Christian from Longview who argued that the plant shouldn't be illegal because God put it here. The bill didn't get any further than that single committee before it died. But it signaled to many advocates that, in one of the reddest states in the country, at least they have a chance.

"That was a huge step for Texas, definitely the biggest step we've ever taken," Miller said. "It really sent a strong message. With David Simpson being a staunch Tea Party conservative, bringing a Christian argument to it really changed the conversation in a lot of ways."

Miller said that the strongest argument on the table right now for medical marijuana is coming from veterans, who plan to descend on the Austin Capitol building in the fall to voice support for legalization as part of a movement called “Operation Trapped.” “If you are like the thousands of Texas veterans who take cannabis to relieve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury, or chronic pain...you are treated like a criminal in Texas,” their website states. “That is wrong, and your voice should be heard.”

In Harris County, at least, District Attorney Devon Anderson has taken steps to lessen the sting of a marijuana charge with the First Chance Intervention Program, which lets first-time low-level marijuana offenders off the hook in exchange for community service. Her opponent in the coming election, Democrat Kim Ogg, seeks to decriminalize all misdemeanor marijuana offenses, in fact. Miller said he's confident that decriminalization of weed will make its way to the state level next session in some way, but, as Donna Campbell put it, advocates “have their work cut out for them” when it comes to making the plant freely available to even some of the state's most vulnerable, ill citizens.

It doesn't help that David Simpson isn't seeking re-election in the House and instead is facing a run-off for a Senate seat against Republican Bryan Hughes, which makes the race a key factor in pot's legal future, Miller said. Some of pot's biggest adversaries, though, have also left the building, like former representative Myra Crownover (R-Denton), who, as chair of the public health committee, refused to even put a more comprehensive medical marijuana bill to a vote, letting it die as a deadline passed them up. The sheriff of Denton County, Will Travis, is also another big anti-pot guy who is no longer in office. He authored a declaration on behalf of the Sheriff's Association of Texas that made it crystal clear that law enforcement wouldn't be supporting legal weed in any way, arguing it would lead to an increase in crime and a public safety problem. Just before the medical cannabis oil bill went up for a vote, he even testified before lawmakers that he feared siblings of the severely ill child who depend on the cannabis oil would get ahold of the medication when their parents weren't looking.

"As a father, I would do anything for my child," he said. "But putting low amounts of marijuana oil in a child's body where the brain is not fully developed is not the way."

Miller said that people who spew arguments like that against medical marijuana are really the biggest problem: The THC that those epileptic patients are using doesn't even have any psychoactive ingredients in it. But as a result of the misconception, he said, the biggest reason conservative lawmakers won't support weed is that they're scared. What would the Republican establishment think of them if they looked as if they were helping out the potheads eating pizza on their couch getting high to Pineapple Express?


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