South Plains Activists Want Marijuana Decriminalized

Organizers Anticipate Policy Change, State Rep. is Doubtful

By Alyssa Goard |

Published 01/11 2016 01:21AM Updated 01/11 2016 10:19AM

Nearly 30 South Plains residents gathered in Lubbock Sunday, seeking political coaching as they prepared to rally for changes to Texas’ marijuana policy.

They attendees requested this training from Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, a statewide coalition who provide training on messaging and how to win over the ears of public officials.

“Way to much money and way too many lives are being impacted by our current marijuana policy [in Texas],” said Heather Fazio, at the event. Fazio is the Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, she helped lead the training session in Lubbock.  The Hub City was her seventh and final stop on the TRMP political organizing tour.

Fazio explained that the organizations which make up TRMP have  two major priorities: reducing penalties for those caught in possession with a small amount of marijuana and expanding the Texas Compassionate Use Act.

“We’re spending millions of dollars to  unnecessarily arrest people for using a substance that’s objectively safer than alcohol,” Fazio said.

Governor Abbot signed the Compassionate Use Act into law in June.   Jax Finkle, one of the leaders of the event, explained the act: “it’s a limited bill, it offers low THC high CBD oil for only people who suffer from intractable epilepsy. So it’s very important to other people who suffer from conditions which can be treated by cannabis that their conditions be included [in the act] as well. So we want to expand the compassion to other conditions that can be helped

Finkle works with Texas NORML pushing for changes in marijuana policy. One of her biggest objectives is working to give veterans more access to medicinal marijuana.

“In other states [veterans] can access [medicinal marijuana] through a VA directive, however here in Texas, veterans are being treated as criminals for using medicinal marijuana, and that’s simply not acceptable,” Finkle said,

Fazio agrees, she’s been following medicinal marijuana programs in other states as well as research on marijuana in other countries.  She believes that people with debilitating conditions like cancer, PTSD, and chronic pain would benefit from legal access to the substance.

Fazio is helping to train aspiring activists in Lubbock to defy some of the stereotypes around marijuana policy.

“We’re working with a broad coalition in Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, that’s comprised of organizations that span the political spectrum, this isn’t just stoners and hippies and liberals anymore, these are conservatives that want to be involved in this issue, that want to see more limited government and to see accountability,” Fazio  explained.

Despite Fazio’s enthusiasm, State Representative John Frullo (R) of District 84 is doubtful that her coalition will change minds of politicians during the upcoming session.

“[Decriminalizing] marijuana, it’s something that’s not going to happen in Texas anytime soon,” Frullo said. “A bill was actually filed last session, it made it through committee, had a vote outside of committee and then it died in the House Calendars Committee. I don’t think anything is going to make it any further than that.”

Frullo is referring to a bill proposed by a state panel that aimed to legalize recreational marijuana use in Texas in 2015. That bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Frullo has represented West Texans in the state legislature since 2010. He said that when Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana use Texans discussed the possibility of expanding policies in the Lone Star State, but for the most part he feels that those conversations have long since died down amongst his peers.

“I’m not for doing anything to legalize marijuana,” Frullo added. “I think the laws we have right now are what we need.”

Frullo is concerned that changing marijuana policy could make the substance more accessible, leading users to other drugs.  He welcomes feedback from people like the marijuana policy activists in Lubbock, but can’t picture his fellow representatives voting to decriminalize marijuana anytime soon.

“We want to hear people that are our constituents and have them talk with us about their concerns,  whether they agree with us or not, but at the end of the day I don’t see that policy changing any time soon,” Frullo said.

But Kerry McKennon, a Petersburg, TX resident who attended the training said that he believes West Texans seeking marijuana policy change haven’t been vocal enough with their state representatives.  He attended the training in hopes of learning how to change that.

“People living in small communities [like Petersburg], you have people who don’t get to get out and we have home-bound individuals, where the possibility of medical marijuana could really improve their quality of life and even get them back into the work force,” McKennon said.

McKennon explained that he doesn’t use marijuana, but he believes that for some of his friends and neighbors, medicinal marijuana would improve their quality of life.

The organizers of the event remain optimistic about their cause because of enthusiasm from people like McKennon.  Fazio explained that in the last Texas legislative session, marijuana policy reform received more support than ever before, so she has high hopes for the upcoming session.

“Legislators that aren’t having this conversation and moving forward with reform are demonstrating how disconnected they are with the populous,” Fazio said. “We see through poll after poll that Texans are ready for reform, these kinds of changes to policy are sensible changes that will help to make us freer and safer in the state of Texas.”

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