AUSTIN, TX. 7 May, 2015 — Lawmakers in Texas saw a way through the cannabis conundrum on Wednesday after state Rep. David Simpson (R) argued that government should not ban a plant created by God. In a move that confounded many advocates from the cannabis industry, House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee members agreed to support the “Christian case” as Simpson describes it, and voted 5-2 to advance House Bill 2165, which seeks to end marijuana prohibition in the Lone Star State.
Not only would cannabis be legal for adult consumers under the new bill (but illegal for minors), the plant would be treated like any other crop grown in the state, taking legalization further than mere taxation and regulation. Conceivably farmers and the public could grow cannabis like herbs or potatoes, only the crop would be more profitable for those wishing to cultivate commercially.
When he introduced the bill in March, Rep. Simpson, a tea-party Christian, said, “Let’s allow the plant to be utilized for good — helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products — or simply for beauty and enjoyment.” Simpson argued: “Current marijuana policies are not based on science or sound evidence, but rather misinformation and fear. “All that God created is good, including marijuana. God did not make a mistake when he made marijuana that the government needs to fix.” He reminded lawmakers that “Government prohibition should be for violent actions that harm your neighbor, not of the possession, cultivation, and responsible use of plants.”
In Simpson, advocates who have argued the logic of legalization to deaf ears in Texas, have found a strange bedfellow and unexpected ally. While lawmakers have been dragging their feet, Texans themselves have warmed to the idea of regulation cannabis like alcohol, with 58% supporting full legalization in a September 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling. In letters to the editor and radio talk shows Texas voters have increasingly condemned the federal war on cannabis as waste of law enforcement resources that could better be used to fight serious crime and control borders. The state’s strict laws – there are no exceptions even for medical use – are also seen by many as an affront to personal liberty that is inconsistent with Texan values.
Under former Gov. Rick Perry, lawmakers were not responsive to the shift in public opinion, although during his last year in office, Perry seemed to soften his position. In an interview with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, the governor said: “You don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint.” It is not yet clear where Gov. Greg Abbott will stand on marijuana law reform. Abbott has said decriminalization is unlikely to happen this year, but he has not expressly ruled out changes to state laws, moving forward.
Republicans in Houston remain opposed to change, according to former Party Chairman Jared Woodfill, who is reported as saying: “The Republican Party is opposed to it. Constant with our party platform, I think it’s dead on arrival if it reaches the House or Senate floor.”
Only days before approving HB 2165, the committee also approved a decriminalization measure ending arrests for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and imposing a civil fine for minor offenses of up to $250. While Simpson’s bill is eligible to reach the House floor before the legislative session ends June 1, that is unlikely.