While Texas lawmakers have often been viewed as a bunch of bible-thumping conservatives in cowboy hats who refuse to loosen the reins of their probationary standards, this stereotype has been blown out of the water over the past few weeks with the passing of several bills aimed at reforming the state’s marijuana laws. Three pieces of cannabis-related legislation not only made it out of committee, but were also scheduled to go before the House of Representatives before the end of the legislative session – giving the Lone Star state the potential of joining the ranks of a cannabis-friendly society in 2015.
Perhaps the most shocking slab of legislation to make it off the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee chopping block is a bill proposed by Republican State Representative David Simpson. House Bill 2165 seeks to eliminate any mention of marijuana from state law, while allowing it to be regulated in a manner similar to tomatoes.
The proposal made national headlines earlier this year. Not even the hardcore pot advocates seemed to be able to wrap their heads around the concept of legalizing marijuana with “God” as a basis for the argument. Simpson appeared honest and passionate about his plan to lead Texas out of prohibition under Christian wings when he discussed the details of the bill at a press conference.
“Let’s allow the plant to be utilized for good — helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products — or simply for beauty and enjoyment,” Simpson said. “Government prohibition should be for violent actions that harm your neighbor — not of the possession, cultivation, and responsible use of plants.”
Although Simpson’s strategy made complete sense to the legion of activists and lawmakers out there working to rid the state of the War on Weed, many predicted House Bill 2165 didn’t have a chance of making it through the committee gatekeeper. However, the committee stood in support of the bill and in a vote of 5 to 2, they sent it on to the House for consideration.
If passed, the bill would establish a statewide cannabis industry comparable to what is currently underway in Colorado and Washington, as well as give residents the freedom to cultivate the plant for personal use.
Although very few believe the proposal stands a chance of winning House approval, supporters say the fact it even got this far is evidence that Texas is moving in the direction of total reform.
“Marijuana prohibition’s days are numbered in the Lone Star State,” said Heather Fazio, political director for the Texas chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Texas voters recognize that punishing adults for consuming a substance that is safer than alcohol is a waste of law enforcement resources and an affront to individual liberty. It appears most of the committee members agree.”
Another proposal that will get its day before the powers of the state legislature is a cautious little medical marijuana bill intended to help patients with epilepsy and other chronic conditions. It’s called the “Texas Compassionate Use Act,” a seemingly worthless “low-THC bill” aimed at establishing a statewide medical marijuana program that would begin distributing cannabidiol or CBD oil to qualified patients by 2018. The proposal, which was introduced by Senator Kevin Eltife, was approved in a vote of 26 to 5 and now goes before the House for deliberation.
Although lawmakers fought tooth and nail to get a medical marijuana proposal before the state legislature this year, there seems to be almost a smidgen of hope that the brass tacks of Senate Bill 336 will not be the one for which the basis of medical marijuana is made in Texas.
“We’re pleased to see a majority of the Senate recognizes the medical benefits of marijuana, but it’s of little comfort if patients aren’t able to experience them,” said Fazio from the MPP. “Texas needs a comprehensive medical marijuana program that allows patients to take full advantage of the various compounds found in different types of marijuana.”
“Some of the provisions in the bill simply make it unworkable,” Fazio continued. “Over a dozen states have passed similar laws in recent years, and just about all of them have been dead on arrival. Texas can do a better job, and the bill can be amended in the House so it can function.”
The third, and most successful, marijuana-related bill heading to the House of Representatives this session is one that proposes a reduction of the penalties associated with cannabis possession. Introduced by Democrat Joe Moody from El Paso, House Bill 507 aims to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana across the state by replacing the present criminal penalties with a $250 fine. Of course, the passing of this measure would be a huge victory for Texas, which currently prosecutes anyone caught with less than two ounces of weed to up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
In an attempt to generate public support for this reform, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy with support from the Marijuana Policy Project recently launched an ad campaign endorsed by a former Texas narcotics officer, who explains the differences between alcohol and cannabis.
“I know of no instance in my entire career where someone was acting out under the influence of marijuana,” the officer says in the advertisement. “People under the influence of alcohol are much more problematic. Law enforcement officials have more important things to do with their time than arrest people for marijuana possession.”
Unfortunately, none of this legislation stands a strong possibility of making it out of the state legislature this year. Even if they do, the likelihood of anything other than the state’s three-legged medical marijuana bill getting signed by Governor Gregg Abbot is a long shot. During a pres s conference in March, Governor Abbot said that he did not believe that marijuana decriminalization was going to happen in Texas anytime in the near future. He said it was his responsibility to ensure Texans live productive lives, and therefore, would not support marijuana reform.
What do you think of the changes going on in Texas? Share your thoughts in the comments.