AUSTIN — Texas has long enforced some of the nation’s toughest marijuana laws, but both Democratic and Republican parties here are apparently ready for changes.
The Republican Party of Texas last month added marijuana decriminalization and medical cannabis planks to its platform; a week later, Texas Democrats added a marijuana-legalization plank to their party’s platform.
“It’s a monumental change,” said John Baucum, political director for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, adding that 83 percent of delegates at the Texas GOP convention voted for a plank that would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use a civil offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time. “The tide is changing all over; Texas can only stand in the way for so long.”
A Quinnipiac University poll published in April showed that Texas voters supported “allowing adults to legally possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use by a margin of almost 2 to 1,” according to the pollsters.
But obstacles to decriminalization and to legalization remain, even though, according to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of 1,200 registered Texas voters, over half of the state’s registered voters support legalization.
New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana have passed medical-cannabis bills and list an array of qualifying conditions.
Oklahoma voters last month made their state the 30th in the nation to allow broad access to medical marijuana.
The decision to recommend cannabis therapy in Oklahoma is up to the discretion of the treating physician, and not limited to specific conditions.
“It is noteworthy that this measure passed in such a red state during a primary election, when voter turnout tends to be older and more conservative than during a general election,” Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a press release. “Support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, and it spans the political and demographic spectrums.”
However, Sooner state voters were able to make the decision through an initiative petition, which is not available in Texas.
Texas’ most-significant recent inroad was the state law signed in 2015, authorizing low-THC oil preparations for treating intractable epilepsy.
A decriminalization bill was scheduled for a vote on the Texas House floor in the 2017 regular legislative session, but time ran out for the measure authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso.
Still, Heather Fazio, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition coordinator, said the fact that the proposal made it out of committee signals a shift in attitudes.
“We have to work through our legislators,” Fazio said. “It takes many sessions.”
“Hopefully, next time, we’ll have the Republican platform behind [a decriminalization bill], Baucum said.
Advocacy from organizations such as Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism, or MAMMA, has become part of the conversation in Texas.
“It makes a big difference when people share their stories,” said AmyLou Fawell, a MAMMA co-founder whose 19-year-old son was diagnosed with autism at age 2.
Fawell, who lives in Austin, said she and her husband were “good autism parents,” and tried “the top doctors we could get him to.”
But one medication, risperidone, prescribed for behavioral problems, left her son with a tongue tic that stayed with him for six months.
“Our son has raged for an entire night,” Fawell said. “Cannabis can stop a meltdown within a few minutes.”
While Fawell and fellow advocates are prepping to push their bills in the 2019 legislative session, there are other residents who aren’t waiting for Texas lawmakers to debate changes.
Israel Zamora, 22, is a bud tender at Rooted in Trinidad, a Trinidad, Colorado, marijuana dispensary, about 115 miles from Texas’ northwest tip.
In Colorado, licensed retail marijuana stores may legally sell marijuana to those who are 21 and older.
At 9:30 a.m. on a recent weekday morning, six of the eight vehicles in his store’s parking lot wore Texas plates.
“Texas and Oklahoma,” Zamora said. “That’s all I see every day.”
John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.