Delegates at the Republican Party of Texas convention on Saturday voted to approve platform planks endorsing marijuana decriminalization, medical cannabis and industrial hemp. They are also calling for a change in cannabis’s classification by the federal government.
“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” reads one of the party’s new positions.
“Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1,” says another.
A third asks lawmakers to expand an existing state law that provides patients with limited access to low-THC medical cannabis extracts so that doctors can “determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients.”
And a fourth says industrial hemp is a “a valuable agricultural commodity.”
That the official GOP organ in a red state like Texas would voice support for such far-reaching cannabis reforms is the latest sign of how mainstream marijuana has become in American politics.
Earlier this month, President Trump voiced support for pending bipartisan congressional legislation to let states implement their own marijuana legalization laws without federal interference. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is shepherding hemp legalization legislation to passage, with the support of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The Democratic Party of New York endorsed legalizing marijuana at its convention last month.
“Texas Republicans, like the majority of Americans, are ready to see more sensible marijuana policies enacted,” Heather Fazio, coalition coordinator for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in an interview. “Our state wastes valuable criminal justice resources arresting between 60,000-70,000 Texans annually. Delegates took a stand this week for a better approach.”
“While it would be preferable for cannabis to be de-scheduled entirely, this call by the Texas GOP signifies a very positive shift in opinion. Outright prohibition is not working and Texas Republicans want to see Congress take action to make cannabis more accessible.”
The new planks cleared a multi-step process at the party convention—including testimony before and approval by two committees earlier this week—leading up to Saturday’s vote by nearly 10,000 delegates.
Supporting marijuana decriminalization, federal cannabis rescheduling and industrial hemp is now the official position of the Republican Party of Texas.
Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,000.
Lawmakers legalized medical use of low-THC medical cannabis extracts in 2015. During last year’s legislative session, bills to provide more comprehensive medical cannabis access and to decriminalize marijuana got record support from lawmakers and advanced in committees, but the clock on the legislative session ran out before floor votes could occur.
Cannabis reform activists hope that the new official GOP endorsement will provide a boost leading into the next session, which begins in January.
“Under the current [medical cannabis] program, most patients are being left behind,” Fazio said. “Texas conservatives are seeing the value of medical cannabis and want to see more inclusive access. Now we will take this to the Legislature for action during the 2019 legislative session.”
At the party event this week, there were four cannabis-focused booths at which delegates could get information about the issue (three from supporters and one from an opposition group), marking the first year that marijuana organizations had a presence in the convention expo area, according to Fazio.
During a floor debate on platform planks on Saturday, one delegate moved to narrow the endorsement for hemp to cover support only “for the express purpose of non-consumable products,” but that was defeated by the convention.
An earlier party platform, approved in 2016, contains a similar medical cannabis expansion plank (as well as a hemp one), but nothing on federal rescheduling or decriminalizing marijuana.
The party’s new endorsement comes amid a contentious and close U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R) who opposes legalization but has voiced support for respecting state cannabis laws, and Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D), who has long supported legalizing marijuana outright.
Meanwhile, a powerful Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Sessions, has used his perch as chairman of the House Rules Committee to block floor votes on cannabis issues in Congress over the past several years. His bid to be reelected in November is considered a toss up by the Cook Political Report.
Texas Democrats hold their convention next week. The party’s current platform as adopted in 2016 supports decriminalizing marijuana and further legalizing and regulating its “use, cultivation, production, and sale as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
See the full text of the new Republican Party of Texas cannabis platform planks below, along with the percentages with which they were approved by delegates:
Civil Penalty: We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time. Passed 81% – 19%.
Compassionate Use Act: We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients. Passed 90% – 10%.
Cannabis Classification: Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and move to Schedule 2. Passed 82% – 18%.
Hemp: We recognize industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity. We urge the Texas Legislature to pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products. Passed 83% – 17%.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Presses Housing Secretary About Marijuana Eviction Policies
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pressed the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) about policies that cause public housing residents and their families to be evicted for committing low-level offenses such as marijuana possession on Tuesday.
During a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, the congresswoman first quoted HUD Secretary Ben Carson from a 2017 speech where he acknowledged that the war on drugs has disproportionately impacted minority communities.
“Do you acknowledge that the war on drugs disproportionately impacted black communities and communities of color despite marijuana and other drug use levels being comparable to white communities?” she asked the secretary for the record.
“Traditionally that has been the case,” Carson replied.
@SecretaryCasron: "I'm always in favor of more flexibility." pic.twitter.com/7ze07GqZc9
— CSPAN (@cspan) May 21, 2019
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say that she was concerned that “the negative impact of the war on drugs has not been limited to incarceration” and that “we had legislative rippling effect that also seems to have been codified in our housing system”
She pointed to two specific HUD policies: the “one strike” rule, which allows property managers to evict people living in federally assisted housing if they engage in illicit drug use or other crimes, and the “no fault” rule, which stipulates that public housing residents can be evicted due to illicit drug use by other members of their household or guests—even if the resident was unaware of the activity.
Carson said that property owners in individual jurisdictions have discretion when it comes to enforcing the policy, but he conceded that these rules are in effect under federal law.
“So a person could be stop and frisked and be found in possession of a small amount of marijuana and then be evicted or have their entire family evicted from public housing?” Ocasio-Cortez asked.
“That is a possibility,” Carson said.
Who says progressives can’t get stuff done?
Thank you @SecretaryCarson for your testimony in front of the Financial Services Committee today.
We have many crises in housing, & I look forward to reversing the unjust legacy laws from the War on Drugs in our public housing system. https://t.co/ZK8aFsyIxo
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) May 21, 2019
The congresswoman then asked if Carson was aware of the “no fault” rule, to which he replied that the “use of such activity is extremely limited, if ever used.” Ocasio-Cortez responded by stating that the policies “are still codified in federal law” and asked whether the official supports “reversing some of these provisions” such as the “no fault” rule.
Carson said he was willing to talk about individual cases, and the congresswoman followed up by noting that there’s a lack of holistic review for these cases. Given Carson’s interest in hearing details about individual cases, she wondered if he’d “support being able to move some of these policies to a more holistic review.”
“Should that case-by-case consideration be codified in federal law instead of having blanket, one-strike or no fault policies?” she asked.
“I’m always in favor of more flexibility,” he said, signaling that he’d be open to reforming some of the anti-drug policies in effect federally at HUD.
Should Carson decline to take action, legislation introduced by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) in April would protect public housing residents who use marijuana in compliance with state law from being evicted.
Ocasio-Cortez herself has filed a bill that would prevent public housing applicants from being denied due to a low-level drug conviction that resulted in a sentence of under ten years and prohibit drug testing of applicants “as a condition of such housing assistance,” among other reforms.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
Presidential Candidates Are Cosponsoring A New Marijuana Descheduling Bill
Four 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have signed onto new legislation to federally deschedule marijuana—while a handful of other White House hopefuls are notably missing as original cosponsors.
The companion bills introduced on Monday by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and use some tax revenue from marijuana sales to provide grants to socioeconomically disadvantaged individuals to participate in the legal industry.
It would also set aside money to support efforts to expunge past marijuana convictions.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—who are each seeking the Democratic presidential nomination—are cosponsoring the bills.
But Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Reps. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Seth Moulton (D-MA) and Tim Ryan (D-OH) have so far declined to give the legislation their signature, despite their overall support for marijuana reform.
Bennet was an original cosponsor of a similar bill that Schumer filed during the 115th Congress.
The reasons he and other candidates decided against joining as original cosponsors of the new legislation are unclear, though some of them may end up adding their names at a later date.
For Booker, it’s possible that the senator doesn’t feel that the bill goes far enough in terms of promoting social equity—which is why he hasn’t supported separate cannabis reform legislation introduced this Congress.
Outside of the presidential candidates, Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Carper (D-DE) also cosponsored last year’s version but are not yet on the new proposal.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to pass more modest cannabis reform legislation, including a bipartisan bill to give marijuana businesses access to banks that cleared the House Financial Services Committee in March.
Photo courtesy of Evan Johnson.
Two Federal Agencies Schedule Meetings To Discuss Marijuana-Related Issues
Two federal agencies recently announced that they will be holding meetings this summer to discuss public health and safety issues related to marijuana.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a notice published in the Federal Register last week that its Board of Scientific Counselors will convene on July 16 and 17 to tackle a wide variety of topics, including how to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and how to balance intramural and extramural research initiatives.
On the second day of the meeting, which will be open to the public, the panel of experts will also discuss the role of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in “addressing public health concerns related to marijuana.”
Separately, on June 11 and 12, members of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Drug Testing Advisory Board will meet for a conversation about federal workplace drug testing policies. Part of that meeting will involve a discussion of “emerging issues surrounding marijuana legalization.”
While the Federal Register filing does not spell out which “emerging issues” will be specifically addressed during the first day’s public session, it also notes that the board will discuss the “impact of cannabis laws on drug testing and future direction” in a closed session on the second day of the meeting.
The federal discussion comes as marijuana reform advocates have stepped up efforts to end the employer practice of penalizing workers who test positive for THC metabolites.
In New York City, for example, a City Council measure prohibiting pre-employment drug testing for cannabis in specific industries and another barring such tests for people on probation were both enacted this month without the mayor’s signature.
While federal marijuana laws continue to strictly prohibit cannabis, the growing legalization movement has forced various agencies to address the issue. Officials from some federal divisions have observed in recent months that the scheduling status of marijuana under federal law has inhibited research into its public health benefits and risks.
In December, representatives from the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse were part of a workshop focusing on cannabis research.
U.S. government agencies have also used Federal Register notices to solicit the public’s help in identifying studies about the effects of cannabis on disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.