The Marijuana Biz Comes to Houston This Weekend

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Got a good pot product you want to pitch? Well, you're in luck. The Marijuana Investment Conference will be happening this weekend, and it will take place right in our fair city.

That's right -- the Bayou City is about to be home to quite a few weed deals, and unlike what's been happening under the table for years, these will all be quite legal.

According to the folks in charge of MIC, the conference, which is running Sunday and Monday at the Westin Hotel in Memorial, is meant to connect investors and entrepreneurs who are focused on the big business of marijuana. Like connecting grow-light or hydroponics businesses with legal growers in states that have reformed their marijuana laws.

Gone are the days of those shady deals touting bongs as "tobacco pipes." Early-stage companies who are looking for funding will be able to pitch their ideas to investors looking for their next big marijuana money-maker, all in a very legal, organized setting.

Seems a bit strange, right? Houston isn't exactly an enclave for progressives in Texas. But as crazy as it may seem to choose the Bayou City to host a marijuana conference, it really isn't all that strange.

Really, Houston is a bit more cannabis-friendly than one might think.

Our city is home to the Baker Institute at Rice University, where researchers have done some incredible work on drug policy -- especially related to marijuana. Take, for example, the seven-part blog series, "Viewpoints: Should Marijuana Be Legalized?," where Baker Institute fellows and guest writers took to the blog to discuss the case for legalization across the nation. The series drew in a record number of readers and commenters, and created dialogue about the ins and outs of legalization here in Texas.

And then there's the work by William Martin, director of the Baker Institute Drug Policy Program. Martin has written extensively on marijuana policy, but "War Without End," his feature story for Texas Monthly in May 2014, explored the use of marijuana to treat veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. The subject matter was groundbreaking. There's some essential research on marijuana policy happening right here in Houston.

We have a number of advocacy groups like NORML in Houston -- our city even has two chapters, North Houston NORML and Houston NORML -- and we are home to Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, more commonly referred to as RAMP.

Started by lifelong Republican Ann Lee, RAMP aims to educate conservative lawmakers on the criminalization of cannabis by talking about traditional conservative principles -- limited government, fiscal responsibility and personal liberty -- in order to overcome the barriers some conservatives politicians pose to the legalization movement.

But even if RAMP and NORML and the Baker Institute aren't enough to convince you, Houston's new way of dealing with low-level marijuana offenders should be. The Harris County District Attorney's Office announced this week that it will partner with the Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff's Office on a new pilot program that offers leniency for first time misdemeanor marijuana offenders.

Starting on Monday, October 6th, first-time, non-violent offenders who are found with two ounces of marijuana or less will be given the choice between eight hours of community service or an eight hour class. If they complete the program, the charge won't appear on their record.

"Our goal is to keep these individuals from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system," said Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.

Is the policy as liberal as in Colorado or Washington, the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana? Of course not, but it's a move in the direction of pot reform, and further sign that local attitudes toward marijuana are changing. And more local, cannabis-friendly events like the Marijuana Investment Conference only underscore that.

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