Texas is known for a few things: Longhorn steers, cowboy hats, J.R. Ewing, the Alamo. You get the picture. Texas is also known as a predominantly conservative state. Texans love God, Country, and guns, as the old saying goes. Shockingly, marijuana may soon be added to this list.
In a move that can only be described as unexpected by most, the Republican Party of Texas has voted to approve party platform planks that endorse the decriminalization of marijuana. The Texas GOP is also recommending the Federal Government change cannabis’ drug classification. It probably should be restated, so that everyone is sure that they are reading what they think they are reading: the OFFICIAL position of the Texas Republican party now includes the decriminalization of marijuana and a reclassification under Federal drug scheduling guidelines. It is awfully cold in hell today.
In 2015, Texas lawmakers legalized the medical use of low-THC medical cannabis extracts, and during least year’s legislative session, bills to provide more comprehensive medical cannabis access and decriminalize marijuana were offered. Receiving record support from legislators, the bills were not ultimately voted upon before the session ended. However, even such incremental steps could not have predicted this huge new policy shift by the Texas GOP.
So, what are the specific planks that the Texas GOP has adopted? It won’t be a free-for-all with no regulations or restrictions whatsoever, which will be sure to disappoint some, but clearly the message being sent by Texas Republicans is that there has been a demonstrable culture shift since the days of “Reefer Madness”. Here is the list:
1) Civil rather than Criminal penalty: Possession of marijuana for personal use below two ounces would be a civil offense rather than a criminal offense, with a fine up to $100 and no possibility of jail time. This measure passed 81%-19%.
2) Compassionate Use Act: This would expand the aforementioned 2015 law to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients. This measure passed 90%-10%.
3) Cannabis Classification: Calls for Congress to change cannabis’ current Federal drug schedule classification from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. This measure passed 82%-18%.
4) Hemp: Calls for legislation allowing for the cultivation, manufacture and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products. This measure passed 83%-17%.
What has led such a conservative party is such a conservative state to make such a drastic shift in policy? One factor has been the willingness of Texas Republicans to acknowledge the therapeutic effects cannabis can have for those suffering from a variety of ailments. Heather Fazio, a coordinator for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, stated, “Texas conservatives are seeing the value of medical cannabis and want to see more inclusive access.” Currently, cannabis is primarily used to combat those suffering from illnesses or ailments that cause severe pain. However, there are current studies being conducted in an attempt to find other therapeutic uses.
Another factor is the continually diminishing social stigma attached to marijuana. Several weeks ago, President Trump stated that he supports pending bipartisan legislation to let states implement their own marijuana legalization laws without Federal interference. While an argument can certainly be made that the President’s proclamation has more to do with States’ rights than with marijuana legalization, the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is actively attempting to pass hemp legalization legislation with full support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) support, is indicative of the waning stigma attached to it. In a town where the two major political parties agree on nothing, they have come together on marijuana. See the “hell” comment above.
The remaining major factor in the Texas GOP’s policy shift is one that is familiar to politicians and government, in general: money. As Heather Fazio stated, “Our state wastes valuable criminal resources arresting between 60,000 to 70,000 Texans annually [for marijuana possession].” Eliminating this type of arrest frees local and state authorities to focus on other crimes, more serious crimes.
So, what is the takeaway? Is the Texas GOP becoming more “liberal?” Doubtful. Will it lead to the legalization of other drugs? Again, doubtful. But, what it does show is one of the things that makes American Democracy great: if enough of the people unite on a single issue, loudly enough and for long enough, politicians will eventually be forced to follow suit. That the Republican Party of Texas, a red party in one of the reddest states, is voicing support for such comprehensive marijuana reforms, it is just the latest indication of how mainstream marijuana has become, not only in American life, but in American politics as well.
Featured Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash
Marijuana Leaf Photo by Rick Proctor on Unsplash