Educational foundation for marijuana in Texas established
An educational foundation for informing Texans about the cannabis plant, otherwise known as marijuana, has been established to help propel efforts aimed at changing minds about a plant which has been demonized and criminalized for over 100 years.
Foundation for an Informed Texas, or FIT for short, will be a non-profit sister chapter of Texas NORML, an organization which has been lobbying at the state capitol in Austin for decades on behalf of reforming marijuana laws.
The organization is focused on educating the citizens of Texas on current marijuana laws, legislative and elective processes, available legislative options, as well as the physiological aspects and socio-economic impacts of cannabis.
From the group’s website, “Foundation for an Informed Texas works to provide Texans with the knowledge about cannabis, the biological mechanisms, the physiological aspects and socio-economic impacts through tools and resources such as seminars, trainings, on-line resources to promote being properly informed; to engage the community regarding how the legislative and political processes work; to engage the community by bring awareness to any legislation regarding cannabis; to educate legislators and staffers regarding the scientific realities of cannabis.”
Immediately this prompts the question of why another organization needs to be created when there are already groups which exist to educate Texans on this topic, groups which regularly need more funding and volunteers as is.
The group’s executive director Jax Finkel, who is also the executive director of Texas NORML, says that it’s a matter of legal status which really sets this organization apart from others.
“FIT is a sister organization to Texas NORML, much like National NORML also has it’s foundation. The big difference will be our tax status,” Finkel states. “Most organizations regarding cannabis in Texas are 501c4 or 501c6. For example, Texas NORML is a 501c4 which allows us to engage in lobbying activity. With FIT being a 501c3, it will allow us to diversify our education, enable us to apply for funds that Texas NORML would not be eligible for, and accept tax deductible donations from individuals and corporations. We plan to shift a portion of our educational outreach to FIT, making it possible to make better use of both organization’s budgets.”
This would presumably increase the funding available to lobby the legislature and continue paying Finkel as Texas NORML’s first paid director. Few states have seen advancement in marijuana law reform without having full time paid positions. The other known paid positions in Texas include Heather Fazio with Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and Randal Kuykendall, a former lobbyist for the Texas Municipal Police Association who has lobbied on behalf of MPP.
Does this amount to another mouth to feed in the competition for funding though? Finkel says that this new organization allows them to go after money not accessible by current groups.
“We think being a tax deductible foundation will help drive people that want to support education but need the deduction to donate. Not having 501c3 for the various cannabis organizations in Texas has been a barrier to fundraising.” Finkel adds, “We are also now able to apply for grants and other resources that are only available to 501c3s. We are currently looking into grant opportunities and getting our documentation inline for application, as well as identifying potential corporate and individual funding sources.”
Established in October of 2017, FIT hopes to raise $4,000 by the end of December in time to put on educational workshops in January and February of 2018. They are also seeking two founding corporate sponsors of $10,000 each to get them started, and will have an annual fundraising goal of $50,000.
“We are looking to create a resource for cannabis that people can lean into online and in person through workshops, to change public opinions about cannabis resulting in responsible cannabis policy. We will work to curate information from experts in Texas and use that knowledge to educate Texans on the realities of cannabis,” Finkel states.
She adds, “We will work with our start date as our baseline and the Foundation will track interactions, feedback, and changes over a five-year continuum to allow for quantitative analysis and adjust for improvement and implementation during future endeavors. We have found that teaming up collaboratively can be very beneficial for expanding and improving existing programs. We saw that with the TRMP (Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy) coalition in the 2015 and 2017 sessions, particularly through the trainings that were implemented. Through the creation of FIT, we plan to apply for grant monies to cover the cost of expanding workshops allowing Texas NORML to use money previously earmarked for those educational outreach events for lobbying and advocacy efforts. We currently hope to put on a full workshop or enable empowerment sessions in over a dozen cities in early 2018.”
The board of FIT packs a lineup of well known people in the Texas cannabis movement, including Deputy Director Amanda Berard, Secretary Carlos Caro, Treasurer Lisa Wise, and Resource Director Nishi Whiteley.
In fact, these people are so ingrained in the efforts to change marijuana laws in Texas, concerns could be raised that a movement already strained for quality representation is now having to stretch its human resources even further.
Finkel believes that this is not an issue however given that it fits with what they are already doing. “We have worked together over the last session through many of our efforts and we all felt that our backgrounds gave us a unique ability to kick start this endeavor. Our mission at FIT is inline with much of our individual missions. Since this is a sister group that will be taking over a portion of Texas NORML’s educational program, we think it will keep our load balanced.”
The big question though is whether Texans not already well informed about the cannabis plant and policies surrounding it will be receptive to FIT as a legitimate authority and source of information. A century of intentionally misleading information which still has people believing that cannabis can kill you, that it kills brain cells, or that hemp and marijuana are the same thing, can be large obstacles to overcome. Becoming an established, reliable source of information can be a daunting task, however the people behind this organization believe they are up to the challenge.
“Our board members are leaders in this community with proven track records,” Finkel states. “Collectively we have vast knowledge of the plant’s chemistry, how and why cannabis works in the body, which conditions cannabis may benefit, risks and how to reduce harm, and the legislative process for changing Texas laws. We have all committed our time, reputations, networks, and industry resources to the success of FIT.”