Texas begins first major push for marijuana reform in 2017
An estimated 375 citizens from around Texas traveled to the capitol in Austin to speak with legislators about marijuana law reform this week.
As part of a coordinated Constituent Advocacy Day, many people traveled several hours to join forces and visit the office of every state lawmaker in Texas. Those in attendance were well prepared after multiple lobby training events were held around the state late last year.
Organized by a coalition of groups including chapters of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) under the umbrella of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, participants met at the capitol for a briefing before setting out in teams to visit with legislators and their staff.
“There were citizens representing every single Senate District and most House Districts” according to Jax Finkel, the Director for Texas NORML and one of the event’s organizers. “They spoke with their legislative offices about reforming cannabis law so that patients can safely access medical marijuana for their debilitating conditions and so that citizens of Texas are no longer arrested for minor possession of a plant.”
She added “Some attendees were able to meet directly with their legislators and some with staffers. Many attendees took away a feeling of empowerment and purpose that we hope will continue through as we go into the hearing portion of the legislative session.”
About 40 activists in north Texas chartered a bus through DFW NORML, leaving at 5:30 in the morning to make the trek down to Austin. Another 20 people from the Dallas/Fort Worth area met the group there.
“Our team visited the offices of many DFW lawmakers, including two meetings with my Republican Representative Tony Tinderholt, to discuss medical cannabis as well as decriminalization,” stated Shaun McAlister, the Director of DFW NORML. “Overall, I would consider the trip a success, with many of our attendees admitting to me just how much fun they had and how thrilling it was to speak with their lawmakers about marijuana.”
The group plans to go to upcoming lobby days for veterans and patients as well. McAlister added, “Hopefully even more citizens from around the Lone Star State will consider joining us in Austin for these citizen lobby days because the only way marijuana laws change in a state like Texas is by all of us working together. Every single Texan has a role to play when it comes to ending cannabis prohibition. Isn’t it high time you got involved?”
Proponents of marijuana reform are sure to have a busy session this year with 17 cannabis related bills being filed so far. The bills which are likely to see the most focus are HB 81 and SB 269.
HB 81, filed by Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil penalty, much like a traffic ticket. There would be no arrest or criminal record, only a $250 fine or community service.
SB 269, filed by Senator José Menéndez, a Democrat from San Antonio, would establish a whole plant medical cannabis program for patients with a debilitating medical condition. The program will replace the current Compassionate Use Program which allows only for CBD oil, and will be administered by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Unlike some other states, this bill would also prevent county and city governments from prohibiting dispensaries or cultivators.
Conditions listed in the bill include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, sickle cell anemia, severe fibromyalgia, spinal cord disease, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or post-concussion syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or Huntington’s disease.
Also qualifying would be any chronic medical condition which produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or any other medical condition approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule or any symptom caused by the treatment of a medical condition that is approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule.
The next major steps for activists will be committee hearings and votes on these bills. Should they pass out of committee, they’ll have to be scheduled for a hearing by their respective chambers, whether it be the House or Senate. In 2015 despite two bills being passed out of committee, they were never heard by the full House of Representatives.
A Veteran’s Lobby Day will be held on February 22 and will feature Texas veterans from around the state making their case for access to medical marijuana.