"Reeferendum": This Election Season's Most Confusing Political Ad Yet
We - and, judging by the email, nearly every other newspaper in the state - got a very perplexing message in our inbox yesterday from a brand new political action group calling itself the "Medical and Personal Freedom PAC."
The message starts by pointing out how Texas feels mighty far behind on the marijuana-reform game. While recent polls say a majority of Texans want pot legalized in some way, there's questionable support for pot reform at the Legislature. A Washington- or Colorado-like referendum greeting Texas voters at the ballot box in the near future feels like a long shot.
BUT, according to the newly-formed pro-pot PAC: "...We could do it ourselves...We don't need no legislature ...We can roll our own reeferendum."
The ad, by Houston marijuana reform advocates Allan Vogel and David Hutzelman, aims to rally support behind the Texas Libertarian Party nominee for Attorney General, "The 420 Dude" Jamie Balagia. The PAC hopes to boost voter turnout for Balagia, an Austin and San Antonio defense attorney who also goes by the name "DWI Dude," saying the statewide candidate "can serve as a surrogate for a marijuana reform referendum." A vote for Balagia is a symbolic vote for pot legalization, the thinking goes.
Balagia, a self-described "loudspoken" pot legalization activist, can riff marijuana-reform policy with the best of them. With ease, he lays out all the convincing arguments why marijuana reform is the inevitable future (which includes noting that Colorado's legal-pot rollout appears to have been a resounding success).
But why Attorney General? What the hell does the Attorney General have to do with steering marijuana policy? (The AG's website even has this handy job description page here.) "That's a good question," Hutzelman told the Press. "You might call Jamie. I think maybe he's prepared to answer that." Vogel was a tad more defensive when we posed the question: "Quite frankly, I haven't researched that, and I don't find it relevant to the purposes of our project." You can see/hear/read more about the PAC at its website, complete with a song called "The Ballad of Jamie Balagia (sung to the tune of Davey Crockett)."
You'd think state representative, state senator, governor or guv lite - you know, offices that could actually propose, fight for, or steer legislation to reform Texas pot laws - would be a more logical political choice if marijuana's the motivation (like, say, this vocal pro-marijuana candidate running in the Senate District 28 special election next week). Or, if you really care about how a simple marijuana possession charge can upend someone's life, or the fact that blacks are twice as likely as whites to be arrested for pot possession, despite similar use rates, why not run for district attorney somewhere? You'd have more say over time and resources prosecutors devote to fighting non-violent misdemeanor pot cases, or you could implement a cite-and-summons policy.
But Attorney General? Balagia says his residency is in Austin, and Travis County already implements cite-and-summons. But beyond that, he says, "If I can just get all the stoners to get off the couch and vote for me, I'll get more than five percent of the vote. ... I think it's time for Texans to make a statement. This can be that statement."
Being a third-party candidate might not even be Balagia's biggest hurdle in trying to siphon votes away the GOP and Democratic candidates this year. A lawsuit filed in Bexar County by the State Bar of Texas has accused Balagia of misconduct, claiming he failed to give back two clients some $50,000 in drug forfeiture money the DEA returned to him. "I anticipate that will be resolved in the next few weeks," Balagia insists. "I didn't steal anybody's money...That doesn't mean I didn't make some procedural errors. I'm kind of like a warthog. Sometimes I smell bad and I'm kind of ugly."
To be clear, there are serious, organized efforts in the state to educate Texas lawmakers on the benefits of marijuana reform. As we've reported here, the Marijuana Policy Project - a central force in Colorado's legalization effort - set up shop in Austin earlier this year, pledging to spend $200,000 annually over the next five years in the Lone Star State. MPP has also hired a lobbyist to shop three bills to lawmakers for the 2015 session: decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization bills.
But hey, maybe a "reeferendum" in support of a self-described "warthog" running for attorney general who's been sued by the State Bar for misconduct can't hurt, can it?
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.