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Top Texas Lawmaker Reaffirms Support For Medical Marijuana And Decriminalization At Youth GOP Event

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A top Texas lawmaker reaffirmed his support for medical marijuana and loosening penalties for possession last week, while the state’s lieutenant governor took a crack at the White House over recent cannabis-related firings.

House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said during a Texas Young Republicans event that members of the group “like talking about cannabis.” And while personally admitting he wouldn’t be able to distinguish marijuana from oregano, he said, “I understand the issue.”

The speaker said that he voted for a limited medical cannabis legalization bill during his freshman year in the legislature, and his support for the reform is partly based on the fact that he has a “sister with severe epilepsy, and small amounts of CBD oil makes a big difference in people’s lives.”

“If we can prescribe barbiturates and highly addictive pharmaceuticals, why can’t we look at other options, correct?” he said. “Every session we built upon that, and we need to continue to build upon it. We absolutely do.”

Watch the Texas House speaker talk about cannabis policy, around 1:18:18 into the video below: 

Phelan also noted that he was a “joint author—no pun intended” of cannabis decriminalization legislation last session.

“I was able to go back home and explain it, and it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “To me, it’s a reasonable criminal justice reform issue.”

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that advocates “still have a lot of hard work to do in Texas, but when statewide officials are talking about cannabis at Republican events, we are winning.”

Texans’ support for legalizing marijuana has grown significantly over the past decade, according to a poll released earlier this month.

Sixty percent of state voters now back making cannabis legal “for any use,” the University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey found. That compares to just 42 percent who said the same back in 2010.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) took the stage at the Young Republicans event (around 1:41:30 into the video) and started by joking about a recent report that the White House had fired a number of staffers who had admitted to prior cannabis use.

“I know one place they’re sure as hell smoking dope, and that’s in the White House,” Patrick, who in 2019 advocated against a bill to decriminalize cannabis, said.

“You know what, I actually said that on Fox last week. I said, their policies of what they’re doing to destroy America, somebody’s smoking dope in the White House,” he said. “Did you see the headline two days ago? They fired six people for smoking dope in the White House. The bad news, they didn’t fire Biden and Kamala Harris. That would have been great.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that five people had been terminated after disclosing prior marijuana use. And her office released a new statement on Thursday stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”

There’s been bipartisan pushback to the news of the cannabis-related firings, which was first reported last week by The Daily Beast.

A coalition of 30 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday that asks for clarification on the employment policy and urges that prior cannabis consumption no longer be used as a justification to disqualify people from serving in the federal government—especially since Vice President Kamala Harris and at least one one other Cabinet member are on record about their own marijuana use experiences.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said in a statement to Marijuana Moment that the “federal government has completely screwed up marijuana reform.

“I fought for sweeping changes to our marijuana laws in the 115th and 116th Congress,” he said. “What does it say about the Democrat Party when a Republican fights harder for Biden staffers than they do? It’s time to end the forever war on marijuana.”

Rep. David Joyce (R-OH) sent a similar message to the president on Tuesday in a separate letter condemning news of the marijuana-related firings for people who disclosed their previous cannabis use.

“Simply put, in a nation where the truth is considered malleable, we need to demonstrate to our young public servants that telling the truth is an honorable trait, not one to be punished,” the congressman wrote. “I respectfully request that your administration discontinue punishment of staff for being honest about their prior cannabis use and reinstate otherwise qualified individuals to their posts.”

Biden personally opposes adult-use legalization but has backed more modest reforms such as legalizing for medical use, expunging prior cannabis records, rescheduling marijuana and allowing states to set their own policies.

In Texas, passing marijuana reform has proven to be an onerous task, with Republican lawmakers having historically blocked or defeated legalization proposals.

That said, leaders in both chambers of the legislature have recently indicated that they anticipate more modest proposals to be taken up and potentially approved this session, particularly as it concerns expanding the state’s limited medical cannabis program.

Phelan said he thinks “the House will look at” reform measures this year, including bills to legalize for adult use. He said the lawmakers will likely “review those again, and some will get traction, some will not.” However, the Senate remains an obstacle for comprehensive reform.

Legislators in the state prefiled more than a dozen pieces of cannabis legislation ahead of the new session. That includes bills that would legalize recreational marijuana, allow high-THC cannabis for medical use and decriminalize low-level possession of marijuana.

Patrick, who presides over the Senate, has killed prior efforts to enact reform in the state, raising questions about the prospects of far-reaching changes advancing in the chamber. After the House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, he was was quick to declare the proposal dead in the Senate.

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Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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