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SMU Journalism Student Interviews Texas Cannabis Report

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Recently a journalism student from Southern Methodist University reached out Texas Cannabis Report for an interview as part of a class research project. I was happy to answer some well formed questions.

Those questions included:

1. How did you first become affiliated with NORML and the cannabis reform movement in Texas?
2. What have been the major milestones you’ve witnessed, nationally and locally, since being involved with NORML and the cannabis movement?
3. Based on your experience, what is the most effective way for people to get involved with the movement? In what ways does your organization encourage or facilitate involvement?
4. Do you think being located in Texas, a predominantly conservative state, has thwarted the efforts of the local cannabis movement in any way? How does your organization appeal to broader Texas audiences that may oppose the legalization of marijuana?
5. Do you think recent success in legalized states like Colorado and Washington has impacted public opinion? (Both in Texas and nationally).
6. What role do you think the media plays, or should play, in the national debate surrounding the legalization of marijuana?

This was my response:

Back in 2009 I attended a meeting for NORML of Waco due to my interest in cannabis. I’ve always been involved with various groups which relate to my personal interests. Activism comes very naturally to me, and when I see something wrong with the world, I tend to end up doing something about it. After a few meetings I decided to run for a position on their board and was elected secretary. I’m now their deputy director. If you’re going to live somewhere, you should always work to make it a better place.

That began my affiliation with other organizations around the state, and in 2013 I recognized that there was a need for a cannabis-based news organization in Texas. Something professional, which adhered loosely to AP format, and delivered accurate and timely news for both those with an interest in the Texas cannabis movement, and people who need to be informed about the plant, its uses, laws, politics, and culture surrounding it.

The major milestones nationally are of course the four states that have legalized marijuana for recreational consumption. Also not talked about as much are the states that have legalized hemp, but those were big moments as well. Seeing marijuana legalized in our nation’s capital seemed to very much demonstrate that it was time for federal law to be changed.

The greatest milestones have been witnessed right here in Texas where marijuana prohibition began just over 100 years ago. We’ve seen polls with ever increasing support for reforming marijuana laws, whether it be for penalty reduction, medical, or full legalization. Last year we had 11 bills pertaining to cannabis filed, the most by far, and we actually got to see these bills receive hearings where many people waited for hours on end to testify in favor of them. For the hearing on House Bill 3785, which would have established a whole plant medical marijuana program, not a single person spoke in opposition. Another piece of legislation which unexpectedly passed out of committee 5-1 was House Bill 2165, which would have completely legalized marijuana. The biggest milestone though was seeing all of the various organizations in Texas come together to be more effective at the capitol, and it showed when over 300 people attended a lobby day dedicated to cannabis law reform.

Getting involved locally is the most effective way to get involved in the movement. Everything starts locally and builds up, so being active in your community and working to educate the people in your town is paramount to building the movement and changing minds. Putting your talents to use in the way that works for you is great, but the biggest thing is showing up and giving the effort needed to get things done. These various local organizations need funding and volunteers, and by supporting them, even more people will get involved.

Texas Cannabis Report provides the information needed to help people be effective with their involvement in the cannabis movement, such as proposed legislation and ordinances, how various communities are reacting to cannabis-related issues, what politicians and other organizations are saying about cannabis, and how law enforcement handles marijuana-related encounters. We also spotlight what organizations are doing so people in that community are aware of those actions, and people in other communities can get involved in similar ways. We’re constantly referring people to organizations around the state on a daily basis. We also provide an event calendar which gives people easy access to see what all cannabis related events are happening throughout the state.

While Texas leans conservative, that hasn’t thwarted our efforts to gain ground in the state. Many conservatives are fine with changing cannabis laws, though they often don’t see it as a priority and don’t hold it against politicians who are either indifferent or work against reforming those laws.

The biggest obstacle is both our lack of access to ballot initiatives and the fact that our state legislature only meets for about 6 months every two years.

Every state that has legalized marijuana so far has done so through ballot initiative. None have legalized through their state legislature. This means that we are dependent on our state legislature doing something that has never been done before, and doing it during a 6 month window every other year.

Another obstacle is the lack of participation in the primaries. Most elections in November are decided in March because of gerrymandered districts, and we have extremely low voter turnout during the primaries. Those who strongly oppose cannabis law reform tend to vote in the primaries, and candidates are more likely to cater to those voters.

Our organization is built on the idea of reaching out to those who oppose the legalization of marijuana or are on the fence. We attempt to provide objective coverage of the news and reach out to get the perspectives of those who are opposed to reform. Through our objective journalism we hope to help educate others without turning them away through sensationalism or by catering to one culture over another.

Personally, I reach out to others simply by being involved in my community. For instance I volunteer as a referee for a local church group who puts on sports leagues for special needs children. I’ve also worked with local animal rescue organizations, and political groups. Being a good member of your community is the best thing you can do to appeal to others who have a negative perception of cannabis and those involved in the movement.

The recent success in states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have definitely impacted public opinion in a positive way. It has shown legal marijuana can work and has not led to any major negative consequences. The biggest thing is that legal marijuana is becoming normalized, working its way in people’s minds towards the same status as alcohol, even though it is a much safer substance.

Ultimately the media will decide whether progress on reform takes the long or short road based on what they cover, and how they cover it. We need more objectivity from the media and less sensationalism. We also need them to stop portraying every supporter and consumer as the tie-dyed, unsuccessful slacker. There are many successful, upstanding people in the cannabis movement who make for excellent representatives. Those reporting on cannabis news need to become more educated about what it is they’re covering as well. The Denver Post has actually hired informed, dedicated marijuana journalists to cover the news in Colorado.

The media should play a bigger role in delivering more facts about cannabis, its uses, the people involved with reform, and the statistics surrounding it. They have a duty as journalists to educate their readers on the topics they choose to cover.

Much thanks to Sydney Dawson for reaching out! We wish you the best of luck on your school project. Go Mustangs!

Stay up to date with the latest cannabis news from a Texas perspective by following the Texas Cannabis Report social media pages.
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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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