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%.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressman Files Marijuana Bill After Leaving Republican Party
In one of his first legislative acts since leaving the Republican Party earlier this month amid a feud with the president, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI) filed a bill on Monday that would let states set their own marijuana policies without federal interference.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because bipartisan legislation that would accomplish the same goal has already been filed this Congress.
But unlike the nearly identical Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, Amash’s new bill excludes one provision that would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the effects of cannabis legalization on road safety and issue a report on its findings within a year of the law’s enactment.
That language states that the GAO must study “traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries” in legal cannabis states, actions taken by those states to “address marihuana-impaired driving,” testing standards being used to detect impaired driving and federal initiatives “aiming to assist States that have legalized marihuana with traffic safety.”
Given Amash’s libertarian leanings, it stands to reason that he opposes spending government dollars to conduct the research and simply supports the broader states’ rights intent of the original legislation.
That would also put him at odds with social justice advocates who feel that the STATES Act itself doesn’t go far enough and are pushing for more comprehensive legislation that includes additional provisions addressing social equity and restorative justice for people harmed by drug law enforcement.
Members of the House Judiciary Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee heard that debate play out during a historic hearing on ending federal marijuana prohibition last week.
A newly formed coalition of civil rights and drug reform organizations, including the ACLU, is also insisting on passing wide-ranging legislation to deschedule cannabis entirely that also invests in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Amash is a long-standing critic of the war on drugs and earlier this year signed on as a cosponsor of a separate bill that would federally deschedule marijuana. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, filed that legislation, which is also silent on social equity provisions.
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) March 8, 2019
Gabbard also introduced a separate bill that would require the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies to study the impacts of legalization. True to form, Amash declined to add his name to that measure as well.
Read the text of Amash’s new cannabis bill below:
Photo courtesy of Kyle Jaeger.