by Benjamin Fearnow
Austin, Texas (CBS HOUSTON) — A proposal which would make Texas the fifth state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana use was approved in a bipartisan House panel vote – with the bill’s author citing his Christian values as cause for his support.
Being hailed as a historic victory and a surprise to Lone Star state lawmakers, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would make it legal to buy and sell marijuana in Texas, the Houston Chronicle reports. The panel’s three Democrats were joined by two Republicans to give House Bill 2165 a “decisive 5-2 victory.”
The panel’s move in support of recreational marijuana legalization comes two days after their 4-2 vote in favor of a bill to decriminalize marijuana – the first such proposal to make it out of a Texas legislative committee.
And although the bill is not expected to survive the full path to becoming a law in this legislative session, Texas anti-drug law advocates are labeling the move as historic.
“Marijuana policy reform continues to make unprecedented progress this session,” Phillip Martin of the liberal group Progress Texas tweeted after the vote.
Authored by Republican David Simpson of Longview, House Bill 2165 is listed as “an Act relating to repealing marihuana offenses.” The bill seeks to have those convicted of a first-time “state jail felony” to have their sentence suspended and instead be placed “on community supervision,” along with providing probationary protections to students and minors. The bill passed its final vote after tweaking language to ensure it would remain illegal for minors to consume marijuana without parental supervision.
The deeply conservative, Tea Party-backed Simpson explained in an op-ed last month that his belief in God, distrust of government and criticism of the “War on Drugs” led him to sponsor the marijuana legalization bill.
“As a Christian, I recognize the innate goodness of everything God made and humanity’s charge to be stewards of the same,” wrote Simpson. “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix.”
Simpson was joined by fellow Republican Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi in support of House Bill 2165. Committee chairman Abel Herrero of Robstown was joined by fellow Democratic lawmakers Joe Moody of El Paso and Terry Canales of Edinburg in favor of marijuana legalization.
Republicans Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach, both of Plano, voted no on the bill.
VIA CBS Houston
AUSTIN, Texas - The Texas House gave final approval Tuesday to a limited medical marijuana bill that would give epilepsy patients access to trace amounts of cannabis oil. The next stop is Gov. Greg Abbott's desk, marking a milestone that marijuana-reform advocates say is nothing short of historic in Texas.
WHAT DOES IT DO?
The bill allows patients with intractable epilepsy, whose seizures are not controlled by usual treatments, to receive trace amounts of a marijuana plant extract to help treat their seizures. The maximum legal dosage would be so low that it wouldn't produce the high associated with other parts of marijuana.
The oil could only be obtained with a prescription and would remain off-limits to patients with other medical conditions.
WHERE ELSE IS THIS ALREADY LEGAL?
Fourteen states in the past year have passed similar low-dose cannabis oil laws. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott were among the first.
Republicans in those states have stressed that the oil would be strictly supervised and wouldn't be a precursor to legalizing recreational marijuana.
IF IT'S SO LIMITED, WHY ARE MARIJUANA SUPPORTERS EXCITED?
Even the mildest proposals to relax marijuana laws in recent years have been dead on arrival in the Texas Legislature.
Republican Rep. Stephanie Klick, the House sponsor of the latest cannabis bill, has said even she wouldn't have supported her own legislation two years ago. Klick, a nurse, said learning about the impact the oil can have on patients changed her mind.
Progress Texas, a left-leaning group that has pushed for marijuana reforms, called the measure an "important first step."
But not all marijuana reform advocates are celebrating. The Marijuana Policy Project calls the legislation "unworkable" and blasted lawmakers for not following the lead of 23 states that allow comprehensive medical marijuana.
WHAT DO OPPONENTS SAY?
Before the Texas House passed the bill by a 96-34 margin, some lawmakers shouted "It's a bad bill!" during a lengthy debate. The Sheriff's Association of Texas has also raised concerns about the oil falling into the wrong hands or being improperly used.
WILL ABBOTT SIGN IT?
Since taking office in January, Abbott -- the state's former attorney general -- has mostly limited his comments about marijuana to saying he doesn't see decriminalization happening this year.
But that's far from the issue outlined in the legislation now in front of him. He also has plenty of political cover in the form of other GOP governors and his own Republican-controlled Legislature that have supported legalizing its restricted medical use.
Despite concerns from some lawmakers that they were taking the first step toward legalizing marijuana, the Texas House tentatively approved a bill Monday that would allow epilepsy patients in Texas to use medicinal oils containing a therapeutic component found in the plant.
On a 96-34 vote, the House passed Senate Bill 339, from state Sen. Kevin Eltife (R-Tyler), which would legalize oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions. If the House gives final passage in a follow-up vote, the measure will be Gov. Greg Abbott's to sign, veto or allow to become law without his signature. If it becomes law, the state would be able to regulate and distribute the oils to patients whose symptoms have not responded to federally approved medication.
Before the vote, state Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) the bill's House sponsor, repeatedly stressed to House members that the product she was trying to legalize should not be confused with marijuana.
"It is also not something you can get high on. It has a low risk of abuse," Klick said. "This is not something that can be smoked. It is ingested orally."
Texas is one of 16 states where marijuana is illegal for medical and recreational use. In recent years, 13 states have legalized CBD oil for certain medical conditions. Twenty-three other states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing broader medical marijuana use.
At an April hearing of the House Committee on Public Health, supporters recounted the seizures endured by children who they say could benefit from derivatives of medical marijuana. But opponents, including representatives of law enforcement agencies, expressed concerns that increased access to any component of marijuana would jeopardize public safety and lead to increased recreational use of marijuana throughout the state.
Several Republican lawmakers brought up those concerns during the House floor debate. At one point, over the shouts of House members booing, state Rep. Mark Keough (R-The Woodlands) yelled, "This is a bad bill."
State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Simonton) and a House sponsor of the bill along with Klick, responded. "It is not a bad bill. It is a great bill and it is going to save lives."
The bill requires the state to regulate the distribution of the medication, directing the Texas Department of Public Safety to license at least three dispensing organizations by Sept. 1, 2017, provided that at least that many applicants have met the state's requirements. Klick said on the House floor that the dispensaries would function similar to compounding pharmacies. Under the bill, only a neurologist or epileptologist would be able to prescribe CBD oil.
State Rep. David Simpson, a Longview Republican who drew national attention this session for his efforts to decriminalize marijuana, urged House members to back SB 339.
"Many people think it's government doing too little too late but it is a step forward for medical freedom and personal responsibility," Simpson said.
AUSTIN — In a surprise move that supporters hailed as a historic victory, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved legislation Wednesdaythat would make it legal to buy and sell marijuana in the state.
Two Republicans joined with the panel's three Democrats in support, giving House Bill 2165 a decisive 5-2 victory.
The proposal, which would make Texas the fifth state in America to OK pot for recreational purposes, has virtually no chance of clearing any other hurdles on the path to becoming law in this year's legislative session.
Still, advocates described the committee vote as a big step toward future success.
"Marijuana policy reform continues to make unprecedented progress this session," Phillip Martin of the liberal group Progress Texas tweeted just after the vote.
The move came just two days after the same panel voted 4-2 in favor of a bill to decriminalize marijuana, marking the first time such a proposal had made it out of a Texas legislative committee.
House Bill 2165, while more of a dramatic change, did even better Wednesday, drawing support from Republicans David Simpson of Longview and Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi. Committee chairman Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, vice chair Joe Moody, D-El Paso and member Terry Canales, D-Edinburg also voted in support.
Herrero said he had some reservations with the bill but would support it in the hopes it could be improved.
Simpson, a deeply conservative member supported by the tea party, sponsored the bill. In an opinion piece published last month, he explained that, "I don't believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix."
Plano Republicans Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach voted no.
The final vote came after the committee tweaked the bill to make clear that marijuana would still be illegal to consume for minors, except with parental supervision.
It will next go to the committee that controls the state House floor calendar.
VIA My My Sanantonio
Nearly 60 percent of Texas voters favor the legalization of marijuana for adults and regulating it like alcohol, according to a public policy polling survey released Tuesday.
The Marijuana Policy Project found that 58 percent of voters were for legalizing the drug, while 38 percent remained opposed.
"Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia.
The poll also found 61 percent of voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of the drug. Those voters favored replacing penalties with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30 percent said they were opposed.
Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana. If convicted, the person can be sentenced to up to one year in jail and fined up to $2,000.
A majority (58 percent) also supported allowing people with serious illnesses to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommended it.
The survey of 860 randomly selected Texas voters was conducted September 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.
College Student Opts To Let Jury Decide Marijuana Case
'Zac is willing to go down if he must, but it is going to be after a fight.'
~ Attorney David Sloan
A Texas college student has elected to take his chances with a jury following his arrest for possession of marijuana. Possession of under two ounces of marijuana in Texas is a Class B-misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
On July 13, Zachariah Walker, 25, of Denton, was stopped for an alleged traffic violation by the University of North Texas Police Department. During a subsequent search of his vehicle, officers claimed they found about two grams of marijuana. Walker was immediately arrested and booked into the Denton County Jail. He was later released after posting a $1,000.00 bond.
Walker elected to reject the state's October 10 plea bargain offer of 180 days in jail probated for 18 months, and a $600.00 fine; or 70 days in jail without a probationary term or fine.
Walker is a member of The University of North Texas student chapter of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (UNT-NORML.) He has rejected any offers of probation and says "if anybody is going to send him to jail for possession of two grams of marijuana, it is going to be a jury of his peers."
According to his attorney, Fort Worth lawyer David Sloane, this is an ideal case to place in front of a Texas jury and call attention to the absurdity of Texas' marijuana statutes.
"The state's plea bargain offer was harsher in Zac's case than you would normally see because he has a prior 2007 conviction for possession of marijuana," Sloane, a member of NORML's National Legislative Committee and on the local DFW-NORML Board of Directors, told Toke of the Town. "In that case he was initially placed on deferred adjudication community supervision and failed a court ordered drug test four months into it, testing positive for THC.
"The court adjudicated his guilt in that instance and sentenced him to 60 days in jail," Sloane told us. "He was forced then to drop out of his classes. Walker will be facing the same judge in this case."
Speaking publicly about this case with Walker's permission, Sloane said "This guy has had enough. He has a 'been-there-done-that' attitude about probation. And even though a jury could send him to jail for up to 180 days, which Zac is prepared to do if it comes down to it, we don't believe a reasonable and prudent jury would even remotely consider anything close to the 70 days the state has offered as his punishment for possessing two grams of marijuana.
"And they might even find him not guilty," Sloane said. "Other than his occasional cannabis use this guy has never been accused of doing anything wrong or arguably illegal. He works, goes to school, and plays in a band on the weekends.
"He's never hurt anyone," Sloane said. "He's a genuinely nice guy who's had chaos heaped upon his life by a government that takes exception to his exercising his liberty to consume cannabis."Zac is willing to go down if he must, but it is going to be after a fight," Sloane said. "He feels his back is against the wall on this and the State of Texas is leaving him with no choice but to fight."
Sloane says he has staffed this case with other NORML attorneys in Texas and they have agreed to assist in Zac's trial pro bono. Attorney Jamie Spencer of Austin, Texas and Jamie Balagia of San Antonio, Texas have agreed to travel to Denton and help try this case.
While there is injustice concerning marijuana laws statewide, Sloane says these attorneys took a special interest in Zac's case because he is completely free of instances of extraneous bad conduct. This will truly be an opportunity to tests the attitudes of Texas jury where it comes only to possession of small quantities of marijuana.
"If the outcome is what we hope for and expect, we hope it will send a message to prosecutors everywhere to rethink their positions about jail terms for those accused of simple possession," Sloane said. "To my knowledge, having someone charged with possession of two grams of marijuana come into a jury trial with three of the state's top marijuana lawyers will be unprecedented."
With NORML involved, the state is going to have their work cut out for them. The case is expected to go to trial in early 2013 in Denton County Criminal Court Number 2.
Marijuana Plane: Authorities Seek Missing Pilot After Pot Found On Abandoned Aircraft
That's what happens when you try and fly a plane with out all of the plane parts. OOps! - T