Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a coalition that includes NORML and a couple dozen other groups, is prioritizing two bills this year: one that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana and another to legalize marijuana for medical use.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, is sponsoring the decriminalization bill for the third time. In 2016, more than 66,000 Texans were arrested for marijuana possession, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Moody hopes to cut this down by replacing the criminal penalty for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana with a fine.
“It’s fiscally responsible,” Moody said of his bill, adding we’re “being smarter on crime, not saddling young people with criminal histories that are going to take them out of the workforce.”
Sen. José Menéndez is again sponsoring legislation to expand the state’s so-called Compassionate Use Law.
Currently, only Texans diagnosed with “intractable epilepsy” are allowed to use cannabis that contains low levels of the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Menéndez’s bill would dramatically expand this law by legalizing medical marijuana for Texans with certain other debilitating conditions, like cancer, glaucoma, HIV, Alzheimer’s, PTSD, autism or chronic pain, nausea and muscle spasms.
“Patients should not be arrested for using a medicine that is legal in every state that borders Texas, including conservative states like Oklahoma and Arkansas,” Menéndez, D-San Antonio, said in a recent statement. “The Legislature must act and provide medical freedom to those who need it this most.”
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 33 states have implemented comprehensive medical marijuana programs and 10 states have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.
Will these bills pass?
For the first time last year, the Republican Party of Texas endorsed decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. A few months later, Gov. Greg Abbott also threw his support behind the move.
Moody called this growing bipartisan support “a huge step” and a sign his bill could finally become law.
“There’s a lot of momentum,” he said. Acknowledging there may be “institutional pressures” against decriminalization, Moody added, “If this does not make it to the floor for a full debate, I would consider this session a failure.”
Marijuana advocates, although optimistic, reiterate that change won’t come easy.
“The work that we’ve been doing for years is working,” Heather Fazio, who directs Texas for Responsible Marijuana Policy, tells the crowd at Flamingo Cantina. “2018 has been a tremendous year.
“2019 is our opportunity to make it happen.”
Finkel points to a table underneath the bar’s huge undersea-themed mural. Fliers detail important upcoming dates like an advocacy workshop next Saturday and the marijuana policy lobbying day in February. She’s all business as she rattles off dates and times and legislators’ names.
Well, mostly business.
A small pipe sits near the raffle bowl, illuminated by psychedelic lights emanating from somewhere near the DJ booth. Finkel glances over.
“Before I cover the last couple things,” she says, “if you did not already sign up over at the table, we’re doing a giveaway of a function piece of glass art.”
One guy in a red flannel Elmer Fudd hat yells out, “I need some glass!” to chuckles from the crowd. Finkel reaches her hand inside the plastic bowl and pulls out a name. The crowd pauses, expectant.
“Clint!” she announces. The man in the hat stands up, and the crowd cheers as he comes forward to claim his prize.
More information about proposed marijuana-related bills
- House Bill 63/Senate Bill 156: Would decriminalize possessing an ounce or less of marijuana and replace the current criminal penalty (Class B misdemeanor) with a fine of $250 or less. Those fined for possession three or more times, however, could be charged with a Class C misdemeanor punishable of a fine of $500 or less. The bill would not lessen criminal penalties for possession of larger amounts of marijuana.
Bill sponsors: Rep. Joe Moody and Sen. José Rodríguez, both El Paso Democrats. Similar bills include House Bill 335 by Rep. Harold Dutton and House Bill 371 by Rep. Alma Allen, both Houston Democrats.
- House Bill 209/Senate Bill 90: Would create a comprehensive medical marijuana program in Texas. The bills would allow Texans with certain debilitating medical conditions to grow their own marijuana plants for personal use and would also create a licensing process for dispenseries and testing facilities.
Bill sponsors: Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, and Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio. Rep. Gina Hinojosa, D-Austin, has filed House Bill 122, which would also legalize medical marijuana.
- House Bill 551: Would allow Texans who can currently use low-THC medical cannabis under the state’s Compassionate Use Act to possess marijuana concentrate.
Bill sponsor: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg
- Senate Bill 116: Would legalize industrial hemp production and research in Texas.
Bill sponsor: Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio