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The marijuana movement needs civil and respectful discourse

Being a marijuana activist in Texas is frustrating work.

Citizens in Texas do not have the right to gather signatures for ballot initiatives to change state laws; we have to go through the legislature. Our state’s legislative process is so complex that it is almost impossible to actually get a bill passed unless you have extremely powerful allies in state government. Our legislature only meets for a few months every two years and if a bill does not make it through the process during the session, the bill’s supporters have to start all over two years later. This is by design. The Texas political system is designed to be controlled by a few extremely powerful politicians: our Governor, our Lieutenant Governor, the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, and the Chairs of the various legislative committees.

These individuals can stop a bill in its tracks or keep it from being considered at all. As we saw with our medical marijuana bill in 2015, Representative Myra Crownover, who was chair of the Public Health Committee, listened to patients and veterans give moving testimony in support of the bill for over four hours and then didn’t even allow her committee members to vote on the bill. We believe that we had enough committee members in favor of the bill to move it forward to the Calendars Committee. We believe Representative Crownover knew this too, and that is why she refused to let her committee vote. The fix was in. Our medical marijuana bill died in her committee.

Being treated with such disrespect by one of our elected representatives makes us very angry. The question is how to respond.

I believe that the correct response is to always treat our representatives with the utmost respect, even if on the inside we are frustrated and angry. Going to a representative’s Facebook page and ranting and raving and calling the representative names such as “idiot” is counterproductive to our legalization movement. This plays to the stereotype that marijuana users are crazy outlaw hippie stoners with no common sense or morals.

When I was a young officer in the Army, a wise commander once told me, “Always try to be the most calm, rational person at the table.” This was excellent advice for a young, hot-headed Captain long on passionate devotion to our mission but short on wisdom and experience.

On March 10 of this year, we again experienced disrespect by the chairperson of one of the most important committees in the Texas Senate, the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs & Military Installations.

Four of our veterans waited all day for the public portion of the testimony so that they could discuss the issue of medical marijuana. When the first veteran mentioned the term “medical marijuana,” Senator Donna Campbell cut him off and asserted that the legislature had already passed a medical marijuana bill last session. When the veteran respectfully explained that the bill was only for a limited number of epilepsy patients, Senator Campbell tapped her pen loudly on her desk and stated that this was “a subject for another day.” Then she refused to discuss the issue any more despite our veterans giving effective and moving testimony about how cannabis saved their health and their lives.

All of us are justified to be angry and resentful about this disrespectful treatment of our veterans and patients. But my opinion is that we must remain respectful and professional at all times regardless of how we are treated. Our job as activists is to not only lobby aggressively for the reform of marijuana laws in Texas, but also to educate our legislators.

If we speak to them angrily, then they are much more likely to dig in and resist any new information that might cause them to change their mind. I believe that we will ultimately win our fight through education, not anger, and showing our legislators that we are educated citizens, not criminals. Many of our legislators one hundred percent believe the “reefer madness” propaganda of our government. The image that appears in their mind when we bring the up the subject of marijuana is the Cheech and Chong movies they saw in the 70s. We must show them that we are hardworking taxpayers, voters, homeowners, loving moms and dads, students in our Texas universities, devout religious believers, veterans, and professionals from all walks of life.

We are not criminals. We do not want to be criminals.

I believe that the legalization of marijuana is inevitable. It is inevitable because you and me and all of the citizens in our legalization movement all over the United States refuse to accept injustice. I believe we can hasten the legalization of marijuana in our state by engaging our legislators in respectful dialogue, providing them with scientific, research based evidence and, most importantly, representing ourselves as what we are—law-abiding, educated citizens.

We break one law, the law prohibiting possession and use of marijuana. But we break that law as an act of civil disobedience against an unjust law.

In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.” He said, “I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust…is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”

Let us do our work to change the unjust laws in Texas with a spirit of peace and love, not a spirit of anger and threats. “One Love” is our mantra and I believe we will win because our cause is just and because we will convince our fellow citizens and our legislators that we are rational people representing truth.

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David Bass

Director of Veterans Outreach at Texas NORML
David Bass is the Director of Veterans Outreach for Texas NORML. David served in the U.S. Army from 1985 to 2006, when he retired. David is a veteran of Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. David is focused on advocating for a medical marijuana program in Texas. He believes that veterans suffering from PTSD, chronic pain and other service connected disabilities can benefit from access to medical cannabis.

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1 Comment

  1. April 22, 2016 at 9:50 am

    I pray it happens that they see the truth and go natural instead of pushing off dangerous drugs with numerous adverse side effects such as zyprexa. Research before putting those harmful substances in your body and stand firm. Blessings to all.