High expectations: marijuana expected to be hot topic for 85th Texas Legislature

Texas lawmakers submitted at least 11 marijuana-related bills for consideration before the 85th Legislature gets started on Jan. 10.

On Jan. 10, the 85th Texas Legislature got underway and the state's approach to marijuana will be one of the most-discussed issues.

Pot was a big topic during the 2015 session too, when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 339, the Compassionate Use Act, which allows epilepsy patients to treat their symptoms with CBD oil. This session, however, legislators on both side of the aisle are fired up about proposed pot changes due to stories like Jeremy Hale's.

"This isn't just discomfort. This is suffering. It's horrible," said Hale, who was crushed in a workplace accident seven years ago.

The accident left him with eight broken vertebrae and a broken hip.

"I was put on chronic pain management," Hale said.

The powerful pills dulled his pain, but he said they caused other health issues, including chronic pancreatitis.

"[The enzymes are] actually activating inside my pancreas, so my pancreas is basically cannibalizing itself," said Hale.

As a result, he said it hurts to eat and he developed malnutrition, so he turned to something he considers a different kind of medication: cannabis.

"It does take away a lot of the nausea. It makes it so that I have an appetite. I'm actually able to eat without the pain," Hale said.

He and other local cannabis advocates argued Texas should take a more lenient approach to marijuana, as Colorado has.

"Things have been going well since I moved out of the state of Texas," said Port Arthur native Dean Lynch. He relocated to Colorado Springs after getting busted for felony possession of marijuana here. 

"Throughout the years, I just got tired of looking over my shoulder and being considered a criminal. I'm a father. I run a successful business now," he said.

Lynch, who said he smokes medicinally and recreationally, owns a custom glass-blowing shop in Colorado. He said he'd much rather be paying taxes in Texas to support the state he still considers home.

"I was pushed basically out in order for me to have a better life for me and my kids. To me, that's not fair," he said. "I love the state of Texas. This is where I'm born and raised." 

READ THE 11 MARIJUANA-RELATED BILLS PROPOSED IN 2017

It seems more Texas lawmakers are high on the idea of expanding access to cannabis. They submitted at least 11 different bills in the House and Senate. House Bill 58 comes from Republican Rep. James White of Woodville.

"I'm not focused on legalizing marijuana," said White. "I think the people of Texas are still saying they don't want it legal. They don't think it's appropriate for community standards."

However, he said he piped up after sitting on several law enforcement-related legislative committees.

"I'm tough on crime, but you have to do it the right way or you'll have no money to do anything in crime," White said. "If you're going to lock someone up, the primary concern should be they are a threat to our life or liberty. If they're not, then we need to go into some other thoughtful processes."

HB 58 would create a specialty court for first-time offenders caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. The goal is to free up law enforcement and correction resources.

"It's about being prudent with the taxpayer money," said White.

TRACK THE PROGRESS OF HB 58

Other proposals include Senate Joint Resolutions 17 and 18, which would put the issue of legalization on a statewide ballot.

"The people should be able to decide what should be legal or not legal and help with the laws," said Corey Mendes, director of Southeast Texas NORML, a cannabis advocacy group. "Texans would be able to say whether or not they wanted it, not representatives who are in the pockets of special interests."

Mendes admitted the idea of Texans approving recreational use is a pipe dream, but he predicts voters would give a medicinal ballot measure the green light.

"I believe we would have majority," he said. "Change the law. Make it legal. Give them a natural, safe alternative."

TRACK THE PROGRESS OF SENATE JOINT RESOLUTIONS 17 & 18

The fate of those joint resolutions, as well as the other proposals, rests in the hands of state legislators for now.

"If they don't take action, we're going to take action and they're going to be looking for another job," said Hale.

(© 2017 KBMT)


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