In what is surely a sign of the apocalypse, the Texas Republican Party has officially endorsed marijuana decriminalization. Over Fathers’ Day weekend, delegates to the state party’s convention in San Antonio overwhelmingly voted to add multiple pro-marijuana planks to their platform.
The official position of the Texas Republican Party now recommends, but does not require, the Texas Legislature replace all criminal penalties for possession of less than four ounces of marijuana with civil fines of $100 or less.
Currently, anyone caught with less than four ounces of marijuana can be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and face up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000, as well as court costs and various other civil and criminal penalties.
Along with liberalizing Texas’ draconian marijuana possession laws, convention delegates also voted in favor of expanding Texas’ nascent medical marijuana industry and legalizing industrial hemp production. All of the cannabis-related proposals passed with at least 80 percent of the vote.
Despite the popularity of loosening Texas’ marijuana laws, the likelihood of the state actually doing so remains very slim. The members of the Texas GOP leadership — including Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and outgoing Speaker of the House Joe Strauss — have repeatedly refused to schedule hearings on multiple marijuana legalization bills introduced in the last two legislative sessions.
The only notable exception being Texas’ recently enacted CBD oil law, which allows patients suffering from non-responsive epilepsy to receive doses of extremely low THC cannabidiol oil. However, even the effectiveness of that law is debatable.
Currently there only about 30 doctors in Texas that can prescribe CBD oil as a treatment, and there are just three companies authorized to supply the substance. Two of the companies are in Austin and the third is in Schulenburg, a small town about 100 miles west of Houston on I-10.
The lack of progress in modernizing Texas’ marijuana laws isn’t because of a lack of effort on the part of state lawmakers. Although all four of the marijuana bills introduced in the 2017 legislative session received enough votes to make it out of their various committees, none received a floor vote — meaning that even if lawmakers wanted to change Texas’ marijuana laws they won’t be able to.
Amongst the marijuana reform bills introduced last year, was HB 81 which, if passed, would have eliminated all criminal penalties for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
Despite gathering more than 40 bipartisan cosponsors, and passing out of the Texas House’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a 4-2 vote, HB 81 was killed in a procedural move by members of the ultra-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus.
As popular as HB 81 was, it paled in comparison to HB 2107, a medical marijuana expansion bill. The bill — which attracted more than 70 cosponsors — would have allowed individuals suffering from chronic pain and PTSD to use marijuana medicinally.
Even after receiving an unprecedented level of support, and clearing the House’s Public Health Committee with a 7-2 vote, the bill failed to receive a floor vote. Committee chair Walter “Four” Price, R-Amarillo, is being blamed for the death of the bill.
Although the bill was filed in February, Price didn’t schedule a hearing for it until Tuesday, May 2 — just nine days before the deadline to get bills submitted for a vote. The hearing for HB 2107 ran until 2 a.m. and featured more than 70 people testifying in support of medical marijuana.
In a move that some marijuana advocates saw as conspiratorial, Price scheduled the vote on HB 2107 for 5 p.m. on Friday, May 5. He also didn’t let the committee members know about the vote until moments before it happened.
The last minute nature of the vote meant that there simply wasn’t enough time to get all of the paperwork together to get the bill before the Calendars Committee, the committee that decides which bills will be voted on by all of the members of the house.
It takes about three business days for the paperwork to clear so that a bill can be presented to the Calendars Committee. When asked why he didn’t schedule a hearing for HB 2107 earlier in the session, Price reportedly said he didn’t think the bill was “a priority.”
Hopefully Price, along with the rest of the GOP leadership, will listen to the rank and file Republicans and consider marijuana reform a priority next year.