Activists See Texas Poised to Liberalize Marijuana Laws

The first ever Texas Marijuana Policy Conference is being convened this weekend in Austin, as activists believe that Texas is at the tipping point of liberalizing the state's increasingly outdated marijuana laws, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Heather Fazio of the Marijuana Policy Project, says all angles in the battle over whether the state's strict prohibition of marijuana should be changed will be heard.

"State and federal lawmakers, faith based communities, we have policy experts, professional athletes, physicians, and current and former law enforcement."

She says the 2019 session will tackle several proposals to modernize the state's marijuana laws.

"Reducing penalties for low level marijuana possession, making it a civil offense rather than civil," she said.  "We are also passionate about removing barriers that restrict doctors from using medical cannabis."

The Texas Legislature in 2015 approved a bill that allows a certain type of THC free cannabis oil to be used for treatment of specific seizure disorders.  When he singed that law, Gov. Abbott indicated he was unwilling to go further down the path of marijuana liberalization, and the governor has not indicated a willingness to amend his position.

If Abbott signals that he will not sign any marijuana bills, it would stop this movement in its tracks.  Since there does not appear to be the two thirds vote needed to overturn any Abbott veto, let alone on an issue of this social importance, no bill would be seriously considered if it is known it would simply be vetoed.

But times are changing, and Texas is beginning to look more and more like an outlier in marijuana policy.  Nine states now allow the recreational use of marijuana, including California, the nation's most populous state, and about thirty states have now authorized medical use of marijuana.

In addition, local prosecutors, like Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, have begun implementing a 'cite and release' policy toward certain marijuana offenders, where the person is simply given a ticket and told to undergo a drug treatment class and pay a civil fine.

Civil rights groups also also becoming involved in this issue, because a disproportinate number of people who are arrested for marijuana related crimes are African American.

Fazio says at this weekend's conference, advocates are also using an argument that is powerful in Texas--a Second Amendment argument.

"Even a tiny amount of marijuana can lead to a person's right to self defense suspended in the state of Texas for seven years," she said.  "That is something that is really unacceptable, considering this is a substance that is less dangerous than alcohol."

She says current marijuana laws are a hinderance to the state and its people.  "It wastes our criminal justice resources, and saddles a person with a criminal record that hinders their access to education and employability.""


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