By Steve Elliott
Could change be coming to the Lone Star State? A new bill which would decriminalize marijuana has just been introduced in the Texas Legislature, but the Texas Sheriff's Association has already publicly opposed the measure.
"The Sheriff's Association position is that we are going to oppose any effort to decriminalize marijuana, or legalize medical marijuana or any of the components of marijuana," Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk flatly stated, reports News Radio WOAI.
The proposed legislation, House Bill 507, would reduce impose civil fines rather than criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Texas law currently punishes possession with fines of up to $2,000 and jail terms of up to six months.
If passed, the new bill would fine users up to $100 for possession of amounts smaller than an ounce. It will be considered by the lawmakers when the holiday period ends on January 13.
"It's a good government measure that will save taxpayers lots of money and free up law enforcement resources for more serious offenses," said state Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), reports Haley Jennings at KBTX.
By Steve Elliott
Texas state Rep. Joe Moody introduced a bill Monday morning that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Texas. The bill would remove the threat of arrest, jail time and a criminal record for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, reducing the penalty to a $100 civil fine.
Rep. Moody announced the details of the bill at a news conference hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy at 11:30 a.m. CT at the Texas State Capitol.
Rep. Moody was joined by retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney, Matt Simpson of the ACLU of Texas, Ann Lee of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, Heather Fazio of the Marijuana Policy Project, and other representatives of the coalition, including the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody said. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
"The War on Marijuana is a failure and has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, at tremendous human and financial cost,” said strategist Matthew Simpson of the ACLU of Texas, reports Mark Reagan at the San Antonio Current.
By Steve Elliott
The city council in Austin, Texas this week will consider a resolution supporting medical marijuana in the Lone Star State.
Two council members, Bill Spelman and Mike Martinez, are supporting the resolution, reports Quita Culpepper at KVUE, and some Austin parents and patients are rallying behind the cause.
The resolution supports legislation that would provide a legal defense for Texas patients using cannabis medicinally and being treated by a doctor. It also supports the legalization of medical marijuana.
Thalia Michelle believes medical cannabis could help her nine-year-old son, Lance, who is autistic. "It could help with his hyperactivity, cognition, focus, even speech," she said. "This isn't just about smoking for nausea and pain anymore."
Michelle is executive director of a group called Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism. She said that parents in states where medical marijuana is legal are giving cannabis oil to their autistic children, which she said is giving many families hope for the future.
"We found that it wasn't only helping with seizures and life-threatening epilepsy but with a host, a myriad, of special-needs conditions," Michelle said. "We're simply asking the council to add this to our legislative priorities as a bill we would support."
By Steve Elliott
The four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor of Texas took the stage Monday night for a live debate hosted by public television station KERA in Dallas. Asked for their positions on marijuana laws, three of the four voiced opposition to any change in the state's current laws concerning both recreational and medical marijuana.
Incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and state Sen. Dan Patrick all said they didn't want to change the marijuana laws, reports Mark Wiggins at KVUE.
"I would not legalize it," said Dewhurst. "I would not decriminalize it. I think marijuana can be an addictive drug and cause problems for people who are suffering from that addiction."
"We do not need to lower our standards," Staples said. "I think that those that are receiving government assistance should not be eligible if they're illegally using narcotic substances in our state, and our laws need to reflect that fully."
"We know the medical research proves, without question, that marijuana does impact young people more than older people," claimed Patrick. "So it's a nonstarter with me."
Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson staked out his own position, however. While opposed to recreational marijuana legalization, Patterson explained his support for medicinal cannabis by comparing its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to other pharmaceutical agents.
By Steve Elliott
Two lawmakers in Texas have vowed to reintroduce marijuana legislation "as many times as it takes," but drug policy experts say it will be from five to 10 years before the Legislature might change the Lone Star State's cannabis laws.
"I would say within the next decade," said Nathan Jones, Ph.D., with Rice University's Baker Institute, reports Kevin Reece at KHOU 11 News. "If you're looking at the polling data it looks pretty electable. Or it looks almost inevitable."
Recent polls show about 58 percent of Texans supporting the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana. An even larger majority -- 61 percent -- supports reducing penalties for possession of small amounts of pot.
State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr. said he's going to try for a fourth time to get a vote on his bill that would lessen penalties for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana. Under current Texas law, possession of two ounces or less is a Class B misdemeanor and get can you up to six months in jail. "I think that's a little overkill for somebody who has an ounce or less of marijuana," Dutton said.
Is it a dangerous thing to be using (marijuana) in your house, for example?" Dutton asked. "Probably not any more so than having a drink in your house."
More than 60 percent support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession and replacing them with a civil citation similar to a traffic ticket
A strong majority of Texas voters (58 percent) support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol, according to a Public Policy Polling survey released on Tuesday by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). Only 38 percent said they were opposed.
"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, a part-time Austin resident. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market."
The poll also found that 61 percent of state voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30 percent said they were opposed.
Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and fined up to $2,000.
"Law enforcement officials' time would be better spent addressing violent crimes instead of adults simply possessing marijuana," Kampia said. "No adult should face potentially life-altering criminal penalties for using a product that is significantly less harmful than alcohol."
By Steve Elliott
An Austin, Minnesota marijuana advocate is ramping up her push for cannabis and hemp legalization. Deanna Jean and other area organizers plan to hold the inaugural Austin Hemp Fest, a festival promoting legalization, in mid-September.
The Austin Hemp Fest is billed as a drug-free, family-friendly event, and will feature at least local and regional musical artists, Deanna Jean said, reports Trey Mewes at the Austin Daily Herald.
"Prohibition is ending, and it's time we embrace this change instead of fight it," Deanna Jean said.
Organizers will rent the bandshell at Bandshell Community Park for the event, planned for noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, September 15.
In addition to musical entertainment, Austin Hemp Fest will include arts and crafts, as well as speakers who will share information about the potential benefits of restarting the American hemp industry.
The event is raising eyebrows in the city. While the issue isn't up to the Austin City Council, city officials are closely watching the event.
"It would be a major surprise if either the council or myself came out in favor of it," Mayor Tom Stiehm said.
Deanna Jean recently gathered more than 1,000 signatures to persuade Mayor Stiehm to publicly support cannabis decriminalization. He declined to give his position on the issue.