Big hair. Big barbecue. Big sky. Big guns. As the saying goes, everything’s bigger in Texas—but the state hardly has an outsize reputation for progressive marijuana reform.
If this legislative session is any indication, that could be changing. While previous sessions have seen one or two marijuana-related bills introduced, 11 bills taking on various facets of marijuana prohibition were introduced this session—including an effort to decriminalize—and on Wednesday the most comprehensive among them survived the Texas House of Representatives Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
Introduced and backed by Rep. David Simpson of Longview—a Republican, Christian legislator who is supported by the Tea Party—H.B. 2165 would legalize marijuana possession for both recreational and medicinal use and create a system for the legal sale of the plant. The bill will now move to a full floor debate and vote in the House.
While marijuana legalization may bring to mind more liberal states such as Colorado and Washington or a dorm room full of hippies, the movement in Texas—and elsewhere in the country—is increasingly backed by conservatives.
“From a fiscal perspective, most Republicans already think marijuana use is not a major risk to public safety,” Zoe Russell, assistant director of Texas-based Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, told TakePart. “That message resonates across the board.”
The Houston-based reform group, which also has a chapter in North Carolina, is teaming up in its advocacy efforts with the nonpartisan reform organization the Marijuana Policy Project, along with other grassroots organizers. The group was founded a few years ago by an octogenarian—and lifelong Republican—who saw pot’s positive effects firsthand when it was successfully used in treating her paraplegic son’s muscle spasms.
The success of H.B. 2165 thus far has been a game changer that shows legislators are ready to take action—if you ask Heather Fazio, the political director of the Marijuana Policy Project’s Texas chapter.
“Whether they’re interested for social justice reasons or because they’re fiscal conservatives, Texans all across the state are supportive of this,” Fazio told TakePart.
According to Fazio, H.B. 2165 is carefully crafted not just to remove criminal penalties for medical marijuana but also to tax and regulate the drug for recreational use for Texans age 21 and up.
“Rep. Simpson wants marijuana to be regulated like jalapeños,” Fazio added. In other words, Simpson thinks it should be regulated like any other plant-based product on the market.
While first motivated by the medical needs of some of his constituents in northeastern Texas who had been failed by traditional medicine, Simpson decided to advocate for a tax-and-regulate system. The idea is to protect medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution if a new president decided not to follow the Obama administration’s lead and ramped up drug prosecutions.
Even if H.B. 2165 fails, this legislative session demonstrates that the movement for marijuana reform in Texas is picking up speed. While it might not become the next Washington or Colorado this year, Texans on both sides of the aisle are starting to agree that their state’s marijuana policy needs to change.
“[Marijuana is] not a problem that government needs to fix,” Fazio told TakePart. “The government needs to get out of the way.”