Activists in Texas have fought hard for every inch they’ve gained on the issue of marijuana, whether it be in swaying public opinion, obtaining support from public officials, or changing laws.
They show up every other year for each legislative session, and in between they’re holding meetings, public forums, and educational events. They’re talking with lawmakers and candidates running for office. It is a labor of love, and at times it is nearly an unbearable mission in which you can only keep marching forward and savor the rare wins. There are no big wins when it comes to cannabis in Texas, at least not like what we see in other states.
Then comes along the moment when your governor, who has been a staunch opponent of changing our marijuana laws, decides to say on live television that not only does he now think whole plant medical cannabis has merit, but that he thinks the penalty for possessing marijuana should be decreased. Excuse me if I take a moment to celebrate because that is huge. Is it where we want to be? Not even close. But it’s a lot further along than where we were. Big wins in Texas don’t look like big wins because what are hills in other states, are mountains here.
Greg Abbott is in firm control, he will be re-elected this November, and that is our reality. I’ll spare you a lesson on the nuances of political power in Texas, but Abbott essentially is the face of the Republican Party of Texas, and they control all aspects of our government.
His stance has slowly been changing over time. Prior to 2015 he was completely opposed to marijuana in any form, and wouldn’t have taken the time of day to even consider that our laws need to change in any way. Then he decided (an oversimplification) that our state should have a CBD extract program. That program was and continues to be a farce which helps largely no one, but he opened the door, even while saying that our marijuana laws would not change any further while he is governor.
This gave activists a talking point, a basic acknowledgement from the person who is perceived to have the most power in Texas politics, that something about the cannabis plant could help people. This allows other elected officials in Texas to have the political cover needed to evolve their public opinion on marijuana, and that in turn allows others to evolve their opinion. Politics is a gutless game like that, where no one wants to stick their neck out too far, lest they have it chopped off on election day by the few people who do vote in Texas.
It’s true that so far Abbott has stayed true to his word. Our laws did not change during the 2017 legislative session, despite overwhelming support from legislators for both a whole plant medical cannabis program and decreasing the penalty for possession of marijuana to just a fine. Currently you can get 180 days in jail for possessing less than two ounces, of course that’s just the start of our problems when a person is arrested for possessing this non-toxic plant.
But it’s also true that seeing this many lawmakers go out and publicly support these things was a huge win, and very likely a direct result of Texas having passed the Compassionate Use Program (CBD extract) in 2015. It is also a direct result of activists taking their efforts to a new level and making cannabis an issue at the Republican Party of Texas state convention where it became an official plank for the party, which was a big win. You mean we’re celebrating despite not changing the law at all during the 2017 legislative session? Absolutely, because in Texas a big win doesn’t look like a big win.
Now here we are in 2018 and Abbott is providing even more cover for those legislators to go even further. He has completely changed his stance from 2015 and essentially given the state legislature the go-ahead to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession. He has also opened the door even further for medical cannabis, despite voicing his concern of a medical cannabis program being abused. It’s an absurd stance, but it has evolved and given activists a better foothold in dealing with someone who will be in power for at least the next four years.
When you hear about Abbott’s views on marijuana changing, it’s not an endorsement of his position, but the acknowledgment that progress is being made, even if it’s not the extensive progress we expect.
Does this make Abbott a good or even decent governor when it comes to the issue of marijuana law reform? Not even close. There’s a lot of harm to the people of Texas because of these views, all which have been repeated over and over for anyone who cares to listen. We’ll need a different governor with a more enlightened view if we want to reach the full potential of what both medical cannabis and the cannabis industry can be in Texas.
Until then we’ll keep chipping away and take nothing for granted because that is the reality of our situation.