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Marijuana exhibits at state capitol an educational experience

Tens of thousands trek through the Texas capitol building in Austin each year, and many of them are getting to experience a marijuana exhibit as they walk the halls.

During a week in February from the 13th through the 17th, it may have been a surprise for many to see a professional exhibit containing 12 full sized posters on easels spread throughout the E2 hallway meant to educate those who pass by about the 60,000 plus arrested for marijuana possession each year in Texas.

Organized by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy and Texas NORML, the exhibit was done to raise awareness about HB 81, which would reduce the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a fine, with no jail time and no criminal record. Not just anyone can set up an exhibit however, it must be sponsored by a legislator. In this case, Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso was the sponsor. He is also the legislator who filed HB 81.

“This bill is about good government and efficient use of resources,” said Rep. Moody when he filed the bill in November. “Arrests and criminal prosecutions of low-level marijuana cases distract law enforcement and prosecutors, leaving fewer resources for violent crime.”

The posters also included photos and testimonies of those whose lives have been negatively impacted in a significant way due to being arrested for marijuana possession, as well as testimonials from a judge and two police officers and about the need to change the law.

David Bass, Director of Veterans Outreach for Texas NORML, spoke about the exhibit, saying “There is a person who works at the capitol who is specifically in charge of exhibits and he is very friendly to us and our cause. It is crucial that the exhibit is extremely professional. Our posters were designed and produced by volunteers in our movement who have graphic skills. Literally hundreds of people walk past our exhibit every day. These people are a perfect cross-section of Texas citizens: legislative aides, lobbyists, citizen groups at the Capitol to lobby for a specific cause, tourists, Texas citizens visiting the Capitol for the first time, students doing projects, journalists, reporters and many others.”

The exhibit also has a volunteer on duty at all times between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm each day, answering questions and handing out further information.

“I was amazed at the number of people who would stop and read every word on every poster,” Bass says. “Then many of them would walk over to our table and ask for educational handouts and ask us specific questions. These legislative educational exhibits have become one of our most important educational events because we reach so many people who are actively involved in Texas politics and engaged in the legislative process. The response was 99 percent positive. The people of Texas are clearly in favor of reforming marijuana law, especially reducing penalties for simple possession.”

He adds that people are always shocked at hearing about over 60,000 people being arrested each year in Texas alone.

Beginning on February 27 and running through March 3, there will be a similar exhibit in the same hallway, except this time the focus will be on patients and how they can benefit from a whole plant medical cannabis program in Texas.

“Many are also in favor of medical marijuana and share stories about friends and family members in medical marijuana states who have been helped by medical cannabis,” Bass adds. “It is also interesting how many people just admit or imply that they use marijuana and these are well-dressed, professional citizens far from the stoner stereotype. A very few people expressed reservations about changing the law, usually based on a family member who used marijuana and also was addicted to and abused alcohol and hard drugs. They see marijuana as lumped in with the harmful drugs and it is hard to change their minds because of the tragedy of a family member or close friend.”

The medical exhibit is sponsored by Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio and will raise awareness about SB 269, which was filed by Sen. Menéndez. That bill would expand the Texas Compassionate Use Program and give numerous patients in Texas who have debilitating illnesses access to a medical marijuana program similar to those found in 28 other states plus Washington, D.C.

“Doctors, not politicians, should be determining what is best for Texas patients,” said Senator Menéndez when introducing the legislation in December. “This is legitimate medicine that can help a of variety people, from the grandmother suffering from cancer to the veteran coping with PTSD after returning home from war.”

Similar to the first exhibit, there will be education posters and handouts. This time it will also feature 380 pill bottles from individual Texas veterans who support having a medical marijuana program. The pill bottles, collected as part of an effort by Operation Trapped, will be kept in custom made display cases which were built by a Texas NORML volunteer.

“Each pill bottle tells a story because inside each bottle is the veteran’s name, branch of service, dates of service, combat operations (if applicable) and service connected disabilities,” Bass states. “The pill bottles represent Texas veterans from every conflict all the way back to the Korean War. The pill bottles are from veterans with PTSD, veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST) and veterans with terrible war wounds and serious injuries. Each veteran was saved by cannabis from addiction and the horrible side effects of cocktails of pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to them by VA doctors.”

This exhibit comes less than a week after veterans from all around Texas organized for a Veteran Lobby Day at the capitol. The group spoke with legislators about the need to have a medical marijuana program for all patients in Texas, held a press conference, and then delivered a letter and petition to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office.

Both pieces of legislation are currently awaiting a hearing in their respective committees before they can be voted on and sent to the full House and Senate. There is also an upcoming Patient Lobby Day which will be held on March 15.

“The exhibit will be quite moving and we hope it will be a profound educational exhibit for all who see it,” Bass concluded.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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