In the past few years, marijuana reform has taken root across the country. Four states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of pot for recreational purposes. Numerous other states have passed varying types of medical marijuana bills. Even in Texas, which still has some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country, local prosecutors and police departments are starting to change how they handle small-time pot possession.
Evidently one place marijuana reform hasn’t reached is the Republican Party of Texas, which turned away a well-known Republican marijuana reform group that applied to set up a booth at the state party convention in May, as Texas Cannabis Report first noted.
In a post on the Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) website, Zoe Russell, the Houston-based group’s assistant executive director, called the party’s decision “unaccountable censorship.”
Russell says the decision to bar RAMP from setting up a booth at the convention was made by the party’s executive committee, on which some RAMP members actually sit. According to RAMP, the state GOP’s executive committee made the decision in executive session, which means they did it in secret and don’t have to tell anybody why.
“This is an abuse of power, and it signals to Republican activists that our hard work can be thrown to the wayside based on the whims of a select few, none of whom can be held accountable,” Russell wrote.
It’s unclear why the state party feels it should distance itself from marijuana reform efforts. While proposals to reform the criminal penalties for misdemeanor pot possession in Texas failed at the legislature last year, those bills got more traction than ever before, which reformers count as an encouraging sign. Gov. Greg Abbott even signed a very limited, albeit first in the state law allowing some epileptic patients access to cannabis-derived treatments.
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On the local level, policies to ease penalties for first-time marijuana offenders have been central to the “culture change” Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, a Republican, has been calling for in the local criminal justice system.
Polls continue to show that the majority of people in Houston and across the state favor decriminalizing marijuana or at least lowering criminal penalties for pot possession. Political opinion has shifted to the point where a far-right East Texas Republican is calling for the total decriminalization of marijuana in the state. Local police officials have urged the state and the feds to make big changes on pot, calling the drug war a “miserable failure.”
The kind of roadblock set up by the state GOP only threatens the party’s future, Russell argues:
“If the Republican Party is to thrive both in Texas and nationally, it must stop eating its young, and treating hard working activists as useless, simply because members of a backroom committee disagree with them on one issue. This act by the RPT signals that a significant portion of Republicans, including the vast majority of Republicans under 40, are not welcome or valued—even if we agree with 99% of what happens to be in the ever changing Republican Party of Texas platform.