AUSTIN – As the pro-pot lobby plans rallies across Texas this weekend, a handful of lawmakers face a looming deadline to win support for proposals to relax marijuana laws.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, wants to make a civil offense of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana. His bill remains in committee, as does a bill allowing medical uses of marijuana.
“I think I have the votes to bring it out of committee,” Moody said. “Unfortunately we are working against the clock.”
Measures that don’t emerge from committee by May 11 are snuffed out – at least for this legislative session.
In the meantime, one of the country’s most prominent marijuana advocates, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, hopes to draw attention to the proposals at five rallies on Saturday – in Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Houston, Lubbock and El Paso – as well as one Sunday in San Antonio. It’s planning another event the following weekend in Austin.
Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the rallies are important in supporting behind-the-scenes work at the Capitol.
“When you see thousands of people in the streets, this reminds people that things are moving along,” she said.
While the civil penalty and medical marijuana proposals pose significant enough changes, the most far-reaching measure aims to legalize marijuana possession and delivery.
“To date, there has not been a compelling, scientific argument for prohibiting the possession, use and cultivation of the marijuana plant,” said Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, who authored the legalization bill, which is also pending in committee.
Simpson said repeal saves money for law enforcement, spares the “destruction and disruption” of thousands of people busted with marijuana, and will “restore freedom and dignity to all Texans.”
The Legislative Budget Board estimates that legalization would add $71 million to the state’s bottom line by August 2017. That represents savings from costs of prison, parole and community sentencing programs.
Gov. Greg Abbott and the state Republican Party haven’t been convinced, however.
Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican communications strategist, said while the party platform doesn’t support legalization, Republican officials and their supporters harbor a variety of opinions.
“Where we have found agreement is on conservative approaches to criminal justice reform – like sentencing, drug courts and reducing the prison population,” he said, adding that former Gov. Rick Perry and …Read More