While the rest of the country seems to be addressing marijuana prohibition with relatively swift action (as swift as law changes can be), Texas’ conservative and hardline criminal justice attitude have, until recently, largely kept any weakening of marijuana laws as a long shot.
Yet recent polling shows support for Colorado-style legalization as high as 58% among Texas citizens. But as citizens in all states increasingly support relaxed pot laws, even lawmakers in the Lone Star State are having to rethink their stances, albeit begrudgingly.
In January, a few lawmakers surprised Texans with statements that reflected a possible change in attitude towards marijuana reform.
At a discussion on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Governor Rick Perry—largely known for his strict stance on drugs and crime in general—reiterated his support for states like Colorado to “try” legalization without interference. And in regards to his own state, he said:
“As the governor of the second-largest state in the country, what I can do is start us on policies that can start us on the road towards decriminalization.”
Of course, Perry has no intentions on leading the state towards the legalization of any drugs, though he has helped to create alternative drug courts and supports treatment for non-violent and first-time drug possession offenders. But his statement was still a far cry from his stance of years’ past.
“Shocked,” said Ana Yañez-Correa, of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, when asked how she reacted to Perry’s statements. “The decriminalization of marijuana is not something Perry has historically supported.” But he has “evolved”, she added.
Later, in a live debate among the four Republican candidates running for lieutenant governor, the marijuana discussion came up again. Three of the four unsurprisingly voiced opposition to any changes to the current marijuana laws, but one candidate had some refreshing ideas in favor of medical marijuana. Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said:
“We have medical barbiturates. We have medical amphetamines. We have medical codeine. We have medical all of these compounds …” I’m not a doctor, but if there is medical efficacy for the use of tetrahydrocannabinol and the doctor prescribes it, I see nothing wrong with that. We’re talking about medicine. We’re not talking about recreational use.”
While this is some movement in the right direction, and perhaps surprising coming from conservative Republicans, some lawmakers have been fighting for medical pot or marijuana decriminalization for years. Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) has been working for nearly a decade to get some form of medical marijuana law passed, according to KHOU.
“We make a little bit of progress every session,” Naishtat said. “Last session, for the first time, we had a hearing. And it was very compelling, because the people who testified were people with legitimate medical conditions who were using marijuana strictly for medicinal purpose, and it helped them to live and to work.”
Texas isn’t likely to be the next Colorado, at least not yet. But things are changing here too, you just have to look more closely to see it. Local activist groups that support legalization and reform are reporting record crowds and interest in working and advocating for legalization.
Many people believe full marijuana legalization is inevitable in Texas and nationwide. Public opinion is strong, so it may just be a matter of how quickly it happens.