The Texas legislature is showing a green light towards real cannabis reform.
Ezra Van Auken
May 11, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Houston, TX — The Lone Star state could soon turn into the Stoned Star state. Lawmakers in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee advanced legislation forward last Wednesday that could potentially end cannabis prohibition entirely. Compared to Washington and Colorado laws, this Texas House legislation, in its current form, will be the most gutting bill we’ve seen yet in cannabis reform.
Introduced by Texas Representative David Simpson, the basis for his move is that God intended nature to be for mankind’s use and not be prohibited by the state. Simpson explains, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake that government needs to fix.” Overall the committee voted 5-2 in favor of the bill, moving “anti-prohibition” debate to the full House. Two Republicans joined three Democrats is seen as a wake-up call by other state Republicans, suggesting growing popularity to end the prohibition of a the marginalized and debated plant.
In the present moment, Texas law incarcerates an individual who possesses up to two ounces of cannabis for 180 days or fines them $2,000. This is a hefty penalty for possessing a flower. The amount of penalties for cannabis possession in Texas seems a bit drastic by any rational standard. The severity of penalties obviously gets worse as the quantities increase. If an individual holds between two and four ounces, they could be given one year of jail time or a $4,000 fine.
Given the nature of the law and the heavy penalty, you would think it would deter users. However, cannabis popularity has seemingly grown in the state. According to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll, 49 percent of registered voters would be okay with allowing cannabis legalization “either in small quantities (32 percent) or in any quantities (17 percent),” writes Ross Ramsey. The current legislation would completely wipe “marijuana” from state text, and end overall regulatory oversight of the substance.
[For direct information on HB 2165, click here.]
To get a taste of how bad Texas cannabis prohibition is, we break down some of the penalties:
- Possession of 2 ounces or more is a Class A (misdemeanor) offense and can subject the violator with up to one year in jail or $4,000 in penalties. According to drugpossessionlaws.com, all marijuana violators lose their license for six months.
- Sale to a minor is a third-degree felony offense, and can put the violator in jail for anywhere from two to twenty years and cost the possessor $10,000 in penalties.
So while heavily administered penalties are a fact of life in Texas today, social change is slowly trumping that state mandate. That is where Rep. Simpson has come in giving his “Christian case” for ending the prolonged cannabis prohibition. Anti-prohibition groups like Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) have commented on the passage of the bill. Texas Director Heather Fazio told Anti-Media:
Many of the libertarian-leaning Republicans are starting to look at this issue from a limited government perspective they realize that this issue is about individual liberty and personal responsibility.
Texas prohibition laws are certainly not going to be changed tomorrow, but like all courses of long-term action, there must be a plan. Fazio of the Marijuana Policy Project believes that once legalized, state lawmakers could provide very limited regulation of cannabis to assure protection in the market. The director explained that if the state capped the fees, smaller businesses could enter the market without being drained of resources before even being “permitted” to sell their product. Fazio said it would become increasingly important that anti-prohibition advocates remained involved in the political process, even after legalization — to oversee the regulatory decisions.
Colorado, a place where legalization has already been under experiment, is seeing unintended consequences from the state’s regulatory burdens. Due in part to the high tax rate on cannabis sales in Colorado, consumers are seeking a less expensive option – the black market. As reported in August 2014 by The Guardian newspaper, Colorado was on its way to selling an estimated “130 tons” of cannabis last year. Out of the estimated totals for 2014, the state-permitted pot was reportedly going to supply 77 tons of that demand. “Now, where are the other 53 tons coming from?” You ask. The black market, of course.
The state-created study illustrates that the top 22 percent of cannabis users are responsible for 67 percent of the overall recreational sales in Colorado, while 54 percent are responsible for 4 percent of that demand. This could suggest that taxation revenue is through the roof due to a sizable group of returning pot consumers in the market versus “the entire population of Colorado smoking a ton of pot together from state-approved dispensaries”.
Given how much a single person can smoke and not overdose, the tolerance growth once using daily is bound to increase. Creating a demand for more concentrated products and overall access, it isn’t too shocking that cannabis has been this successful so far. Writing for the Denver Post, John Ingold writes, “Overall, the study estimates that 487,000 people over 21 years old in Colorado, or about 9 percent of the state’s population, use marijuana at least once per month.” This is where the debate has led; from legalization to state regulation or free market regulation.
Putting the regulatory debate aside, anti-prohibitionist Texans have a reason to smile this year. Eleven different pieces of legislation have been introduced to the Texas legislature throughout the current session. These are the most pro-cannabis bills in recent time that have seen the house. Interestingly too, there is a young Republican-based faction bringing conscious efforts towards cannabis reform in the big state.
Another concern of many residents in Texas is the Drug War in Mexico which moves closer and closer to surrounding U.S. neighborhoods everyday — at least in terms of direct trafficking. On the border of Texas in Tampico (Mexico), the Drug War has affected American communities because of the proximity of the violence. A drive from Tampico to McAllen, Texas is 8 hours. Covered in a story by the Washington Post, Joshua Partlow examines the violence in Tampico during the spring 2014 rise in cartel-related injustices.
“This month, the federal government deployed more than 1,000 troops to try to reassert control here, shifting the spotlight in the drug war away from the western state of Michoacan and onto this long-neglected battleground and key trade route to the United States.”
Tampico hasn’t always been Drug War-stricken either. The city was once a very active Gulf port, and thrived off Mexico’s largest oil deposit. But once the deposit “dried up” as explained by Kurt Hollander of The Guardian, “Foreign oil companies soon began a massive migration from Mexico to Venezuela, oil production plummeted by 75%, the local economy collapsed, and thousands of workers and their families were forced to flee the city.”
This led to vacancy, eventual corruption of the state apparatus and perversion of politics — a near perfect recipe for authoritative-gang activity, granted you don’t have the high population to plunder. With the local government of Tampico taken over, members of the federal Mexican state are unable to communicate or work with any “official” of the city. What shouldn’t be overlooked about Tampico is the reality that the city has “one of the highest murder rates of journalists in Mexico.”
How can cartels afford to stay afloat in the gang-turf-war?
With “illegal” drugs able to surface in the black market throughout the U.S. and Mexico, cartels as powerful as the ones who are fighting over areas like Tampico are able to exist. This realization that there is a market demand for plants like cannabis, could ultimately be a cartel’s worst nightmare, seeing that any cannabis consumer would rather enter a private, well-established, peaceful business versus a potential cartel’s sticky situation.
In fact, according to Homeland Security, 875,000 pounds of cannabis was seized from traffickers across the U.S./Mexico border in fiscal year 2014. And that cannabis is what’s only seized, not what makes it across the line.
Cannabis reform is only sprouting in the Texas legislature, and lawmakers likely have a long way to go before a law is passed, however as the Texas Director of the Marijuana Policy Project told Anti-Media:
Legislators are making clear that they are ready to have a serious conversation about reforming marijuana laws.
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