NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Marijuana reform in Texas has been a long time coming, but as the end of this momentous year in cannabis legalization draws to a close, it is now on the legislative road map of reform, potentially as soon as 2015. The State Legislature plans to take up decriminalization in January, on the heels of states around states around the country that will be getting serious about implementing new voter driven laws post November.
That puts Texas in a very interesting position to shape certain aspects of the national debate.
Because Texas voters do not have the right to change the law via ballot initiative as has been seen in other states as well as those voting in November this year, this effort on all fronts, will be a legislative driven movement. As a result, the Texas State Legislature, a political body brought to perhaps its last national spotlight by columnist and humorist Molly Ivans, will be a fascinating laboratory for some of the most controversial yet nationally relevant issues of the day, and will therefore give a state influenced drubbing to the issue unseen elsewhere at the state level and certainly on the federal one.
That said, this is also where this conversation is headed. At this point, every state level activist in every state is buzzing with talk of medical marijuana reform for reasons ranging from medical reasons to libertarian ideals. All of these themes resound strongly in a state that reflects in its own unique way, a vital aspect of what Americans think of when they conceptualize ideas of “freedom.”
According to Heather Fazio, the new Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, “Medical marijuana will get an excellent hearing.” The fact that significant reform bills are already slated for discussion when the State Legislature reconvenes in early 2015 is one significant sign of this.
The political coalition that she is part of as much as forming right now also reflects the strong libertarian streak Texas is known for. And while Fazio admits that one of the toughest hurdles to overcome is the equally obstinate, if not reflexive, law and order theme that floats about the state, this is also a two-pronged conversation. Texas is a border state and the level of violence here from not “just” domestic assaults on the War on Drugs, but federal soldiers enforcing international borders and laws caused by just the war on cannabis is one of the most enduringly bloody in the country.
“One of the reasons I am so passionate about what I’m doing with moving drug reform forward is because of the absolutely devastating violence that we are seeing on the border because of the illegal drug trade,” says Fazio. “The cartels are very, very obviously willing to secure their hold on profits using extreme violence which will continue unless legalization occurs. That will allow Texas farmers and Texas entrepreneurs to provide a product we know there is a market for -- Texas patients - of whom veterans are a huge community.”
The minority community, particularly the Latino community in Texas, also suffers from an assault on all sides from gangs, heightened police and DEA targeting and violence. This alone creates, says Fazio, a terrible climate of fear that has long stifled a re-airing of healthy debate about some of the core issues surrounding the Border Drug War and legalization of at least medical use of cannabis.
“The conversation has not moved further faster here because of the culture of fear that has been instilled in our people,” she said. “We are terrified about even talking about the issue. What we are seeing as the movement rolls across the country is that it is okay to talk about this issue. It is O.K. to start thinking about more common sense approaches to drug policy. There is a cognitive dissonance going on Texas right now. A culture of being tough on crime but a reality where Prohibition has fundamentally failed and is creating more problems than it is preventing.”
Fazio in fact also believes that Texas, perhaps more than even Florida or Oregon, could actually create a model of reform that is reflected in other states, particular with its focus on tax policy.
“Once you have a real conversation, the answers become very obvious,” she says. And that conversation is starting to wend its way throughout the state as the top lawmakers in Texas prepare to move forward, if not always in lock step, and in some already guaranteed “Made in Texas Ways.”
“As a limited government girl myself,” says Fazio, “What I would love to see is Texas create the taxation model for the national market – in other words create a model with the minimal taxation necessary to pay for basic market regulation.”
How such issues unfold in the coming year or two is anyone’s guess, including Fazio’s. That said, she sounds confident with the voice of a woman who is part of a large and diverse group that stretches across a continuum of the debate with the realization that the time has come to end the drug war in Texas.
“Prohibition is a Big Government idea,” she said. “What we see in Texas is a growing liberty movement. This is a no brainer issue from a liberty perspective and a freedom perspective. Our goal at MPP is to help create a legal, medical market. We want to help Texans take illegal drugs out of the hands of the cartels and put it in the hands of legitimate Texas business owners.”
--Written by Marguerite Arnold for MainStreet