NORML-izing Drug Laws

Saturday’s Global Marijuana March is drawing more interest than usual.
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Posted May 1, 2014 by EDWARD BROWN in News
Photo by Lee ChastainPhoto by Lee Chastain

If there’s any doubt that the landscape of marijuana laws is changing in Texas, as it is in the rest of the country, look no farther for proof than the Global Marijuana March coming up Saturday in downtown Fort Worth.

Shaun McAlister, executive director of DFW NORML, the group planning the march, said the event has drawn more than 1,000 reservations on Facebook, by those who plan to take part.

“We’ve never had that kind of early interest in this event,” he said. Usually his group, the local chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, draws about 500 people for the march, which they’ve been putting on for five years.

McAlister said the debate over decriminalizing marijuana has transformed over the past year, mostly in the direction of his group’s positions.

“Last November, as we watched Colorado and Washington legalize [recreational] marijuana we realized this was going to be a game changer,” he said.

For the first time in Texas, libertarian, liberal, and Tea Party groups are finding common ground in the idea that jails are not an appropriate solution for nonviolent drug offenders. Around the country, changes in both state and federal laws are lowering or could lower criminal penalties for marijuana possession, and in some cases legalize the recreational or medicinal uses of the drug.

“Incarceration is not the best way to treat drug offenders,” said Vikrant Reddy, senior policy analyst at Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative research and free-market advocacy group. “When you lock someone in a box they still have a chemical dependency.”

Policy Foundation does not advocate the legalization of marijuana, but Reddy said his group is working to make fiscally sound reforms to the state’s drug laws.

“Why are we paying to keep people in jail [for minor offenses] if they are going to get probation anyway?” he said. One alternative, issuing a citation for marijuana possession, would make “eminently better fiscal sense” he said.

A recent poll of 1,000 likely voters by TPPF showed strong public support for less punitive treatment of nonviolent drug offenders. When asked if drug offenders (but not dealers) should be given probation and drug treatment as an alternative to jail time, 79 percent of respondents agreed.

Reddy said directors at TPPF were surprised to find self-described Tea Party supporters voting pretty much like self-described liberals in the poll.

That doesn’t mean that NORML members and Tea Party groups will be holding rallies together anytime soon.

“It’s not like the Tea Party is exactly inviting us to come out to their picnics,” joked McAlister. “I don’t think we’re there yet.”

In January, Gov. Rick Perry caught national attention when he announced his support for softening penalties for minor drug offenses in Texas.

“He really didn’t say anything that out of the ordinary,” said Reddy. “He had already established drug courts [to lesson jail sentences] in Texas’ five largest urban areas and signed a bill that allowed citations to be given for marijuana possession.”

“I didn’t take him that seriously,” McAlister said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot when a governor said something on his way out off office, but it did get people thinking about it.”

Whether or not the words of a lame-duck governor carry any weight, several Texas legislators in Texas are working on bills to change the treatment of marijuana users in court.

State Rep. Elliott Naishtat of Austin, who has worked unsuccessfully for years to legalize medical uses of marijuana in this state, said he will try again in the legislative session that starts in January.

“There is ample evidence that marijuana is beneficial to people suffering from the chronic and debilitating pain associated with cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis,” he said. “I’ve introduced this bill six times, so I’m hoping seven will be the charm.”

Last year the medical marijuana bill was considered by the House Public Health Committee. Afterward, two Republicans on the panel came to him and said they were considering the proposal with open eyes for the first time.

“The witnesses who spoke were compelling,” Naishtat recalled. “We had a woman with multiple sclerosis, and men with cancer and AIDS who said they needed medical marijuana to work and lessen the pain of treatment.”

While he hasn’t taken a public stance on marijuana legalization in Texas, Naishtat said he sees the whole country moving in that direction.

“You’re seeing more and more of this; 21 states have legalized some form of medical marijuana,” he said.

McAlister said medical marijuana provisions are needed “so we can get help to patients who are fleeing Texas for treatments elsewhere.”

State Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth said Texas is slowly moving away from a “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality. “Unfortunately, there are still thousands of victims of this mindset.”

The argument that decriminalization is fiscally responsible is resonating with legislators, Burnam said. “Change can always happen if you have some Republican support.”

On the national level, a bill known as the Smarter Sentencing Act may reshape drug sentencing laws in federal courts by reducing minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, in some cases, by half. A version of the bill was passed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in January with the support of Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

“The act has a good chance of passing,” Reddy said. “The feds have been waiting to see how similar laws played out in states first.”

“These changes have come incrementally across the country,” said McAlister. “Even the changes in the state of Washington started with a city ordinance. Things are going to change with small steps here in Texas too. The average marijuana arrest costs taxpayers $10,000. We had better be fighting some serious crimes for that kind of money. We need laws that don’t throw people into cages for nonviolent offenses.”

He also said billboard advertising bought by his group is helping draw attention to Saturday’s march. Located near I-20 and Anglin Drive, it features a large Texas flag, but with a marijuana leaf replacing the star.

 

Fort Worth freelance writer Edward Brown can be reached at ejb0017@yahoo.com and on twitter @ejb0017

17 Comments


  1.  
    Kim Sprouse

    Love the article FW Weekly! As always you provide needed information! Keep up the excellent work!




  2.  
    Jeremy

    Great article for a great cause!!! I want to publicly thank Shaun and the members of NORML for footing the bill on this billboard. It is a beautiful site to behold. For anyone interested in joining the march this Saturday, festivities start at noon at Mambo’s. Their address is 1010 Houston St, Fort Worth, TX 76102.




  3.  

    The more oppressive government becomes, the louder freedom-loving groups like DFW NORML, Open Carry Tarrant County, and the Tarrant County Libertarian Party will speak out. Great job, Shaun, and thanks to FW Weekly for bringing this to the public’s attention!




  4.  
    Jose79845

    The only reason Ted Cruz wants to reduce mandatory sentencing is so he can prolong the drug war. Reducing the sentence makes it less horrendous and more tolerable.




  5.  
    Debbie dee

    Great job Shaun & thank you Ft. Worth Weekly for an awesome informative article! Change is coming soon!




  6.  
    Debbie dee

    Great job Shaun & thank you Ft. Worth Weekly for an awesome informative article! Change is coming soon!




  7.  
    Anon Y. Mous

    Based of off what I have seen from every day Texans (as in the ones who were actually born here no the out of state “Texans”) most groups support the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes but oppose it for recreational purposes. I am against marijuana becoming legal in the Texas when it comes to the recreational aspect of the topic but I am 100% in support of the drug being used for medical purposes only.

    I understand that the legalization of marijuana will not increase the amount of people that use the drug, and I also know that no one can die directly from consuming the drug, but in the state of Colorado there is a growing concern over the effects of the drug being misused. Two people have misused the drug to where they ended up killing themselves because they were not conscious, I do not want this state to be populated by people who do not have a grasp on their consciousness, and cannot think clearly.

    I also feel as if marijuana should still be considered illegal when it comes to the consumption of the drug for purposes other than medical treatments, like I mentioned previously people will misuse the drug and I do not want to be surrounded or have my life threaten by some idiot who cannot handle their cravings for a drug.

    I disagree with comments about marijuana being “decriminalized” because if the state wanted to reduce its crime then they might as well make all drugs legal in order to reduce the crime drastically but the only thing that this would do is allow people to be protected by the law for being stupid with the misuse of drugs.




    •  
      Edward Brown

      Salient points. It really comes down to what we as a society want to choose as jail-worthy. At one point in time it was illegal drink alcohol or for blacks to own land or marry whites. Eliminating these laws did lower the jail population, but more importantly, the law’s retraction was a statement that the law never should have made these divisions in the first place.




      •  
        Anon Y. Mous

        Race and drugs are different.
        A drug isn’t a person who is being discriminated against, it is a thing that can make people delusional which can result in the person consuming the product to hurt themselves or others.

        The more “we as a society” start to blur the lines between what we consider good or bad, the more humanity is devolving into animals who do not know the difference between what good or bad is.

        I agree that any laws that would discriminate against a person’s race should have never been made, but drugs are not human beings, these things have the ability to hurt us mentally.




  8.  
    Gregg Orange

    Ridiculous! I find this billboard advertisement offensive and I don’t think that it should have ever been allowed to be put up in the first place. Marijuana possession is illegal in the state of Texas, period. This billboard is essentially promoting people to join the supposed bandwagon, as it were and start smoking marijuana! Let’s all go to jail! Let’s all have a drug offense on our record! I say again, it is still illegal to possess or smoke marijuana in Texas. Just because a bunch of people get together and decide to hold some pot smoking rally and put up billboards, hand out flyers or solicit people by phone doesn’t mean that you will not be arrested for possessing marijuana. Rape is illegal too, as it should be. If a bunch of people got together and put up billboards, handed out flyers and held rallies in favor of legalising rape it still wouldn’t make it legal, would it? Until the people in this state vote in favor of legalising marijuana and it is officially on the written into state law as being so, signs like this should not be allowed to be put up because it sends the wrong message out to people.




    •  
      None of your business

      Gregg Orange I see that you still have not fixed your multi-personality disorder or have not taken your medications for you mental illness. Continue smoking that marijuana it makes you seem more smarter every time you post a comment




      •  
        Gregg Orange

        Why don’t you go back to your hippie pad apartment adorned with Hendrix, Grateful Dead and magic mushroom glow-in-the-dark posters, assorted bongs, pipes, rolling papers and half eaten slices of moldy pizza and stale Oreos ground into the carpet and spend another evening trying to achieve the next astral plane of euphoria by smoking yourself into a THC induced stupor. Maybe you can go outside on the balcony in the nude and wave your genitalia at the neighbors.




    •  
      MikeinAZ

      A rather verbose statement, rife with “weasel words” and vague statements (“studies have shown”) which sound authoritative but lack attribution. FYI, I smoked cannabis on a daily basis for over 35 years, all while gainfully employed in management positions in the construction industry. I didn’t go to work impaired, nor did I tolerate those who did. I quit over 10 years ago without experiencing withdrawal pangs of any sort. My issue was the quality of product via the Black Market. Simply stated, I don’t trust it.

      Another point to ponder about the Doomsday Scenarios if we were to legalize and regulate it: The number of people already using it would indicate that if ANYTHING the Prohibitionists said about Cannabis were true a major social calamity would have already overtaken us. If EVERYTHING they ever said about it were true the ultimate collapse of civilization would have already been upon us. Take a look at Denver; “Wild In The Streets” has not come to pass and the Sky Is Not Falling. Perhaps you and Chicken Little should keep each other company and contemplate one another’s navels.




      •  
        Gregg Orange

        You smoked weed every day while employed in management positions for construction companies, eh? Did you happen to manage the construction of that 60 million dollar school district stadium catastrophe in Allen, Tx., by chance?




        •  
          MikeinAZ

          That was a bit after my time. The projects I helped build stood the test of time until Controlled Demolition Inc. came to town and made a spectacle of blowing up buildings. Apart from that, I guess I didn’t emphasize enough that “I never went to work impaired nor did I tolerate those who did”.

          I actually feel sorry for most of you who are so adamantly anti-pot. You have no idea about what you’re missing. For example, if Ronnie and Nancy Reagan had ever sat down, smoked a hooter and then had a “romantic interlude” shortly thereafter, marijuana would have been legalized about 45 minutes later.




  9.  

    i helped start the marijuana protests in nyc, san francisco and washington, dc back in the 70′s…i am not surprised the cause still continues in 2014

    aron pieman kay
    http://www.pieman.org





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