Friday, August 15, 2014

A Surprisingly Realistic Strategy for Marijuana Legalization


"He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?"
Micah 6:8

This week's San Antonio Current documents the maturation of the pro-pot legalization movement in Texas:
“So many of our legislators have been tough on crime and for them to start thinking outside of that, you have to think about sales,” Fazio said of her strategy. “We have to paint a picture and tell the story of how it looks when adult business owners are providing the product for the market where there’s a demand for it, the different aspects of the business and the economic incentives to want to do this.”

As for providing a glimpse of the economic incentive of legalized marijuana, Fazio wants people to look west. “Absolutely, there’s that economic incentive,” Fazio said, referring to Colorado’s tax revenue from marijuana. “But of course, in Texas, we like to say we are fiscally conservative and that money should be kept in the hands of people. Colorado’s tax rate is over 35 percent on recreational marijuana and it’s a significant rate of taxation.” According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, there’s a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana products that is coupled with a preexisting 2.9 percent state sales tax, plus local jurisdiction taxes and a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana. In Denver, according to a November 6, 2013, story in the Denver Post, those factors equate to a 29 percent tax on retail marijuana sales. In May 2014, the state collected a little more than $5.7 million in taxes, licenses and fees. So far for the year, nearly $34.9 million in pot tax dollars have poured into the state’s coffers, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

That’s a lot of money, and Fazio would like to see Texas stick to its idealogical guns and avoid such a heavy tax burden. “I’d really love Republicans to see that using limited government ... can set an example for what minimal regulation and taxation can do for business owners and the economy,” Fazio said of allowing legal marijuana businesses in Texas.

It seems that some Texas Republicans are ready to start talking, though they might still be drowned out by louder, more established voices. The Texas Republican Party’s 2014 Temporary Platform Committee report included pro-medicinal marijuana language in its Healthcare and Nutritional Supplements section. “We support the rights of all adults to their choice of nutritional products and alternative health care ... We urge the Texas Legislature to allow, encourage and facilitate the study at our Texas medical schools [concerning] the safety and efficacy of medical cannabis,” the draft report stated. In the first minority report, several committee members recommended changing the wording of that platform to read as “We believe that Texans should have legal access to medical cannabis as a controlled narcotic prescribed by a physician.” But another minority report recommended removing all language about medical marijuana from the party platform for the 84th Legislature. In the final version of the party’s platform, all language about cannabis had been removed from the health care and nutrition section.

Yet even Governor Rick Perry seems to have warmed to changing the marijuana laws in Texas. Back in January during a panel on drug policy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Perry said that states should be able to make their own decisions when it comes to marijuana legalization.

“As the governor of the second-largest state in the country, what I can do is start us on policies that can start us on the road towards decriminalization,” Perry said, while demurring from discussing full legalization.

Fazio said Perry’s statements have loosened up conservative legislators and given them the green light to have a conversation about marijuana policy in Texas. “It’s OK to start talking about how we can reform our laws to better serve the people of Texas and I appreciate that he got pressed on the issue and that he didn’t avoid it,” Fazio said. “It’s great that the conversation is being had about reforming laws to make society better in a very significant way. Prohibition of alcohol was so negative, and that was [for] 13 years. We’ve seen decades of horrible marijuana prohibition and now we get to right that wrong.”

Will Texas legalize by 2019?

It’s these shifting attitudes throughout the nation and even within conservatives in Texas that prompts the Marijuana Policy Project to lobby hard on every aspect of marijuana legalization.

“What we see across the country is a sweeping change where people are finally putting it into policy. The fact is, prohibition has failed and we need to repeal it. Texas is not going to be the last state that legalizes marijuana,” Fazio said. “The goal is to have full legalization by 2019, with an open legal market that is similar to alcohol.” Fazio said.

The Marijuana Policy Project will lobby to introduce three bills in 2015 that would legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize pot by setting civil penalties with no opportunity for jail time, or—of course—fully legalize marijuana for recreational use and state regulation, Fazio said.

Last September, Public Policy Polling, which polls for the Democratic Party and other progressive organizations on a private basis, conducted a three-day poll of 860 Texas voters. According to the data it published, 41 percent of voters polled strongly supported full marijuana legalization in Texas and 24 percent were strongly opposed. Seventeen percent of voters somewhat supported full legalization and 14 percent were somewhat opposed. As for legal medicinal marijuana in the Lone Star State, 58 percent of voters supported it and 31 percent were opposed. The largest percentage of Texas voters supported decriminalization with 61 percent siding with the notion and 30 percent of voters opposing decriminalization. The 860 voters included 42 percent who registered as Republicans, 35 percent who registered as Democrats and 23 percent who registered as independents or other. Karli Christine Duran, founder and Executive Director of the San Antonio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), thinks attitudes toward marijuana are rapidly evolving.

[Author's Note: Emphasis added.]

....

And support for medical marijuana is starting to come from unlikely places. According to Fazio, who attended a veterans conference in mid-July, military veterans are increasingly claiming publicly that medicinal marijuana treats Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which afflicts many men and women returning home from war.

This brings out other veterans and veteran advocates searching for alternatives to addictive pharmaceutical opiates for sufferers of chronic mental and physical distress. Those interested in service member suicide prevention are also looking to marijuana’s possible psychotropic benefits.

According to the Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, Israeli doctor Raphael Mechoulam’s research on mice has shown that marijuana may reduce the association between stimuli like loud noises or stress and traumatic situations in veterans suffering from PTSD. Mechoulam discovered the psychoactive compound in marijuana, along with other breakthroughs related to cannabis throughout his career. And in a recent Texas Monthly article, William Martin, a Harry and Hazel Chavanne senior fellow in Religion and Public Policy and director of the Drug Policy Program for Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, interviewed numerous Texas military veterans who said marijuana not only treated their PTSD symptoms, it changed their quality of life for the better—despite their fear of arrest.

....

[Prohibition] “causes too many people doing no harm to acquire a permanent label as a criminal; it costs too much in arrests, jail, probation and other expenses; it provides an illegal and profitable market to Mexican and other criminal drug trafficking operations; it corrupts various levels of the justice system; and it doesn’t work. How’s that for starters,” William Martin wrote via email when asked if there is anything wrong with current marijuana policy in the Lone Star state.

Fazio and Duran concur. “Law enforcement is one of our biggest opponents and it has a lot to do with the funding they get for enforcing drug laws. It’s the culture. Law enforcement has it engrained in them that they have to go after this,” Fazio said. “There’s that strong Texas culture of being tough on crime. The reality is repealing prohibition would allow us to use limited resources effectively in serving victims of real crimes and protecting people.” Duran added that the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of people accused of possession of small amounts of marijuana contribute to jail overcrowding and at a significant cost to taxpayers. “Once prosecution starts and you go through the court and all that stuff, you’re tacking on thousands more,” Duran said of the cost to taxpayers when prosecuting marijuana misdemeanors.

While acknowledging that marijuana is a psychoactive drug that can have negative effects, particularly with heavy use, Martin doesn’t think that’s enough of a reason for Texas’ current draconian marijuana laws. “It is far less dangerous, personally and socially, than alcohol. There is simply no convincing justification for treating its use as a crime,”
 Read the whole thing here.

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Some thoughts:
  • This plan addresses the biggest challenge regarding legalization: Using it as a smokescreen for tax increases; while this website strongly supports marijuana legalization, we oppose new taxes even more strongly.
  • 2019 [aka. Abbott's second term] is a realistic timeline that won't impede higher priority economic legislation in the coming two sessions.
  • We had no idea medical marijuana was showing progress for vets with PTSD...muy bueno!!!

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