300 descend on Texas capitol for marijuana lobby day
On Wednesday, a record amount of people traveled to Austin for a marijuana lobby day. There were reportedly over 300 people from all over the state who made it in to speak with legislators about the need to enact a medical marijuana program, and decrease the penalty for simple possession of cannabis.
Several organizations were represented amongst the group, including NORML chapters from Austin, Houston, and the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Also there and based in Houston is Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), as well as Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy which is a lobbyist group who has promoted both a medical and penalty reduction bill.
Zoe Russell, who is with RAMP, stated that they “spoke to key offices today under the pink dome about medical marijuana and reducing penalties for small marijuana possession offenses.” She added, “the more that marijuana policy is openly discussed, the closer we can get to a better outcome for Texas. It’s important for RAMP to get across that our goals embody the small government and fiscally responsible principles of the Republican Party.
Executive Director of Houston NORML, Jason Miller, says that “it was encouraging to see such an organized, diverse, and professional coalition of people working on these efforts. Our lawmakers are listening to us and asking questions. They know the issue is going to come up and they feel much more comfortable now with the idea of supporting it. Today marked a major turning point for marijuana reform in Texas.”
“It was amazing,” stated Jax Finkel, the Deputy Director of Texas NORML which is based in Austin. She helped organize the event and primed people for what they should expect a few weeks ago at a seminar the group put on for treating PTSD with medical cannabis.
Texas NORML released a statement saying, “Texas NORML is proud to be part of a coalition of activists from all over our great state of Texas. We are from every part of the political spectrum but we all agree on one important idea: 70,000 Texas citizens should not be arrested every year for choosing to use a plant that harms no one and, in the case of patients, heals them and enhances their quality of life. We will not stop working until cannabis is legal in Texas. We will change these unjust laws.”
Heather Fazio, who is the Texas Political Director of Marijuana Policy Project and heads up Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said the day was a huge success. “Texans from across the state and spanning the political spectrum came together to advocate for marijuana law reform” she stated.
Some Texans drove as much as 12 hours to reach the capitol so that they could talk to their representative.
Shaun McAllister, the Executive Director of DFW NORML, said that it was a great first experience for a lot of people and that no doubt it was an impressive turnout. “So many people were there to support both medical marijuana and penalty reductions that the capitol was completely abuzz about the topic, and no matter where you turned, people were there to talk about the subject.”
DFW NORML chartered a bus to help get people to Austin, and even made the front page of the Dallas Morning News. Many people made their first ever trip to speak with legislators.
Several patients made the trip as well, including McAllister’s brother who has cancer. The excitement of getting involved and telling his story to legislators had him and many other patients fired up. His brother is forgoing chemotherapy and opting for cannabis treatments instead.
In January there was an official patient lobby day put on by the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics, which also saw a strong turnout.
Organizers gathered everyone for training sessions before people were put together as teams. Each team then walked the entire building speaking with every representative. Many legislators met with several groups to get different perspectives of why the laws need to change.
Some representatives were so strongly moved that they are said to have voiced support for the penalty reduction bill which has already been filed.
Also at the capitol was about 70 members of the Texas Sheriff’s Association, who earlier this year stated that they would oppose any bills which would relax marijuana laws.
In all, bills have been filed for penalty reduction, affirmative medical defense, CBD-only medical marijuana, and hemp research. There are also plans for a whole plant medical marijuana bill to be filed as well.
HB 507, filed by Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso which would decrease the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis to a $100 fine, has been the hottest bill so far.
“HB 507 should be scheduled for hearing in the coming weeks and we need folks calling and writing to their legislators in support of it,” Fazio stated. “Next month our coalition will be hosting an expo at the Capitol. We’ve reserved an entire hallway in the Capitol Extension and we’ll have 6 displays illustrating how/why Texas is ready for reform. Each day during that week, we’ll release the images we’re using. They will be printed on giant posters and on easels throughout the hall way.”
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