On the first of May, testimony was heard for HB 594. The part relevant to HB 594 starts at 1:51:12. Unfortunately, the Texas House posts video in real audio metadata format, requiring the Real Player. I had to start up a Windows VM and download RealPlayer for the first time in over five years to view it. If you take the trouble to get past this annoying hurdle, you will hear heartfelt testimony from 24 people, including 11 patients.
Given that experience, I’ve believed for awhile that, if given the chance, Texas’ Republican majority, at least in the House, would likely support lowering the penalty categories for low-level pot possession. There are so many new members who’ve arrived since then that Grits doesn’t have as good a sense of what a final head count might look like. (State Rep. Debbie Riddle is the only member remaining from that unanimous committee vote.) But with the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Public Policy Foundation providing conservative ideological cover and a different Speaker in power, the 83rd Texas Legislature would be an excellent time to find out.
There’s an interesting wrinkle to this that has lots of businesses supporting lesser penalties. Anti-immigration fervor and the bad economy have driven and deported lots of laborers back to Mexico. Companies trying to hire legal residents to take up the slack are finding that most applicants cannot be hired because they have criminal records, for petty pot possession. Oops.
Not only do US-born workers not necessarily have the same skill sets as the supposedly unskilled workers who “went back to their home countries” when the economy crashed, many Texans can’t even pass the initial screening to get hired, whether because of a criminal history or a dirty urinalysis. Jan Maly, CEO of a specialty contractor in Houston, told NPR that criminal background checks and drug tests disqualified three out of five applicants.
Two bills were recently introduced in the Texas House that would reduce some of the harshness of Texas cannabis possession law. HB 594 would give patients with really scary diseases like cancer, AIDS, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis an alternative defense in court if they used cannabis on the recommendation of a doctor. Very importantly, it would allow doctors to make an oral or written recommendation stating that cannabis would be of benefit to the patient. Texas doctors fear to talk openly about cannabis, so this alone would be an important step. Denying a very sick person a medication that has even a sliver of a chance of helping them is cruel. This is their last hope being taken away from them. And then to throw them in a crowded prison system where they will be abused, debased, and denied care is just wrong.
HB 184 seeks to reduce possession of one ounce from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. That means no jail time instead of the current very harsh sentence of 6 months time. That would take a huge stress off many families. Whether it is a health conscious hard-working dad who likes to manage stress without the perils and hangovers of alcohol or a patient trying to cope with pain, neither belong in jail for 6 months. They don’t belong anywhere near a jail.
Here is the short letter I sent to my representative, Jason Isaac.
Please support HB 184 and HB 594. Many of us Texans know people in California, Colorado, and elsewhere who have benefitted from cannabis. Whether it be to relieve the pain of a traumatic back injury or in order to survive the ordeals of chemotherapy, many of us have friends and family in other states who have shown us what cannabis really is and what it can do for those who are suffering. They are also showing us that it is a safer recreational drug than any other. Let’s makes the penalties less harsh in Texas, especially for those who are fighting for their lives. These patients should be able to try what many have found to be safe and effective without having to worry that they will be sent to prison where they will be denied care and separated from their support structure. We Texans should not have to uproot our families and relocate to be allowed to relieve our pain in peace.
Thank you for your time,
Ryan Chase Boren
Father, Engineer, and Chronic Pain Sufferer
Dripping Springs, TX