All posts by Heather Fazio

Will State Lawmakers Fix Texas’ Harsh Marijuana Laws Next Session?

Posted By Michael Barajas on Tue, Aug 16, 2016 at 9:20 am

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s decision last week to list cannabis alongside the world’s deadliest drugs, like heroin, means that states will continue to decide on their own whether pot possession should be harshly punished and what, if any, patients are allowed access to a plant with many known medical uses.

The decision perpetuates a patchwork system of pot laws across the country that differ radically from state to state. Lawmakers in 25 states have legalized marijuana in some form, while four states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational use of the plant. On the flip side, in some parts of the country, like Texas, a pot possession charge can derail your life and lead to significant jail time. Some cops in Texas might even stick their hands inside you on the side of the road if they think they smell something skunky during a traffic stop.

That’s why marijuana reform activists in Texas say they’re focused on changing state policy in the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January 2017. Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, says activists have two main goals heading into the session: expanding medical marijuana and lowering criminal penalties for simple possession.

While lawmakers managed to pass the state’s first-ever medical marijuana law last year, the law itself is extremely limited—if not practically useless. It approved only marijuana extracts containing high levels of cannabidiol, or CBD oil, and only trace amounts of THC, the stuff that actually gets you high. Still, patients suffering from uncontrollable seizures and rare forms of epilepsy (the people who probably need it the most) are now eligible for this medical marijuana extract with a doctor’s prescription.

This presents another problem: All other medical marijuana states have laws requiring doctors “recommend” or “certify” patients wanting pot for treatment. That’s because “prescribing” medical marijuana is still one of those legal gray areas thanks to federal pot prohibition. Since the DEA still considers the plant to be a Schedule I drug (meaning it has no legitimate use), doctors risk losing their DEA license to prescribe other controlled substances if they start “prescribing” pot. But turns out “recommending” or “certifying” patients for medical marijuana use is a First Amendment-protected activity, so other states have adjusted their laws accordingly.

Texas’ law, meanwhile, says a doctor must “prescribe” the drug. Advocates say the law is so limited families with sick children, like this one, continue to flee the state seeking treatment for serious seizure disorders in other states with more relaxed marijuana laws. Fazio says activists want to see the drug expanded to treat a variety of conditions—from post-traumatic stress disorder to relief for cancer patients.

“There are families uprooting from Texas, where they want to live, because they can’t treat their children here,” Fazio told us. “We think we can convince the Legislature that that shouldn’t be happening.”

Fazio says the other priority for 2017 is legislation that reduces criminal penalties for pot possession in Texas. And that’s because, as it stands, some of those laws are not only draconian, but nonsensical. (Consider the fact that prosecutors in Texas can threaten people caught with too many pot brownies with life in prison because Texas law, instead of weighing the amount of drugs that actually went into the edibles, considers a pound of flour, sugar, and eggs mixed with pot to be a charge-able pound of drugs.)

Fazio says MPP plans to back, among other things, the kind of proposal filed by El Paso Rep. Joe Moody last year, which would reduce penalties for marijuana possession of less than 1 ounce to a $100 fine and no jail time.

“We want to take away the threat of arrest, jail time, and most importantly that criminal record that comes along with a simple possession charge,” Fazio said.

Originally posted here.

Denying patient access to cannabis is a “crime against humanity,” says Glen Mayes, medical refugee from Texas.

Despite some form of legalization in 25 states and Washington D.C., marijuana will remain ranked among the most dangerous drugs. The DEA announced that Thursday, refusing to recognize it has any medical benefits.

Glen Mayes loves his South Austin home. His son was born in his bedroom. But all of his possessions are in boxes. He says he must leave. “It’s hard to leave. It’s hard to think about leaving,” said Mayes.

He calls himself a medical refugee.

His son Orion was born with a rare brain condition. At his worst, he was having 8-10 seizures a day.

“I videotaped one of his seizures,” Mayes said with tears streaming down his face. “Seeing that video was one of the lowest points because I was completely helpless.” Mayes says to treat his son, doctors prescribed high dosages of tranquilizers which basically left him in a comatose state for days.

Then he tried cannabis oil. “We put it on our finger and we rub it on his gums. We have patches that we put inside of his ankle,” explained Mayes. He says it worked miracles.

In July, his family made the decision to move to Colorado.

Since Orion has had steady access to cannabis oil, Mayes says he’s had just two short seizures. “It’s amazing. His quality of life has changed. His whole demeanor is changed. I’ll get on Facetime and we’re actually interacting and it’s beautiful,” said Mayes.

Full story here.

Save the date: Marijuana policy training events this fall

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In preparation for the 2017 legislative session, we’re hosting a series of regional advocacy training events. And we’re coming to a city near you!

The work we do now will serve to put us in an excellent position to pass meaningful policy reform next year, when the Texas Legislature convenes. We want to see criminal penalties for low-level possession replaced with a simple civil citation to eliminate the risk of arrest, jail time, and a permanent criminal record. Additionally, making the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive is a high priority. Currently, too many patients are left behind!

IMG 5326 (RSD M. Gilbert at MPP SA Training Photo - MPP 10-03-15)

The following events will train advocates on messaging strategy, how the legislative process works, and how citizens can be involved in lobbying efforts. Each event will also feature a guest speaker from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, one of our best allies.

Mark your calendar! Dates and locations:

  • September 17/18 — Amarillo and Lubbock
  • September 24/25 — Tyler and Arlington
  • October 1/2 — Harlingen and Corpus Christi
  • October 8/9 — Houston and San Antonio
  • October 22 — El Paso

All events will be free and open to the public but will require online registration as seating will be limited. I look forward to seeing you this fall!

We are looking for patients, medical professionals, clergy, law enforcement, and other influential community members who are interested in meeting with their state legislators in each area. Email us if you’re interested.
To support our work and offset costs, please consider donating today!

Canada: Cannabis Among Veterans Up, Opioids Decline

Canada: Rising Popularity Of Medical Cannabis Among Veterans Associated With Declining Opioid Use

by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director
June 9, 2016

Rising rates of medical cannabis use among Canadian military veterans is associated with a parallel decline in the use of prescription opiates and benzodiazepenes, according to federal data recently provided to The Globe and Mail.

According to records provided by Veterans Affairs Canada, the number of veterans prescribed benzodiazepines (e.g. Xanax, Ativan, and Valium) fell nearly 30 percent between 2012 and 2016, while veterans’ use of prescription opiates declined almost 17 percent. During this same period, veterans seeking federal reimbursements for prescription cannabis rose from fewer than 100 total patients to more than 1,700.

Canadian officials legalized the use of cannabis via prescription in 2001.

While the data set is too small to establish cause and effect, the trend is consistent with data indicating that many patients substitute medical cannabis for other prescription drugs, especially opiates.

Prior assessments from the United States report that incidences of opioid-related addiction, abuse, and mortality are significantly lower in jurisdictions that permit medicinal cannabis access as compared to those states that do not.

Time to broaden medical marijuana

Another Survey Finds Legal Pot Hasn’t Sent Teen Use Higher

It’s the third federal data-reporting effort to douse concern that normalized pot sales would increase teen use.

Newton: Legalization is best approach for marijuana

Richard Newton, Guest columnist | June 4, 2016
www.ElPasoTimes.com

I am a retired U.S. Customs agent and spent 22 years trying to keep illegal drugs out of the country. After realizing the futility of our efforts, I joined Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and began advocating for marijuana legalization.

Having worked the gamut of criminal justice and law enforcement professions, LEAP members understand that our existing marijuana policy has failed to reduce crime, street violence, or its use among youth and adults. We can’t even keep marijuana out of prisons.

Customs and Border Protection has been celebrating numerous large seizures of marijuana along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In September of last year, nearly one ton of marijuana was found in a burning pickup truck on the side of the road in Webb County. Around the same time, 500 pounds were discovered hidden in hollowed-out wooden posts.

More than a ton of marijuana was discovered tightly packaged and hidden in buckets of mango pulp. Two tons of marijuana were seized at the Texas border in January, a little over one ton of which was wrapped in orange packaging meant to disguise the load as a shipment of carrots.

In April of this year, about one ton was found in boxes in an 18-wheeler truck at aFalfurrias checkpoint. If I’m starting to sound repetitive, I’ll remind you that we’ve been doing this for decades.

CBP has estimated that they seize 5 to 10 percent of illegal drugs smuggled into the United States. If we go with 10 percent to keep the math easy, then for every one-ton of marijuana seized at the border, 18,000 pounds of marijuana go through undetected.

Considering the billions we spend every year on enforcement, this is a pitiful result. The 2016 CBP budget amounts to $13.56 billion, so it’s unfortunate that we’re considering our efforts a success.

Corruption of border officials is also worrisome. Some cases of corruption are clear-cut and involve a perpetrator who understood the consequences of his or her actions and moved forward out of profit motive.

Many cases are murkier. Border Patrol agents who accepted a bribe may have been threatened or their families may have been in danger.

The Center for Investigative Reporting catalogued 154 corruption cases at our southern border between 2005 and 2014. The top four most common crimes committed by border officials in these cases were drug trafficking, bribery, human smuggling, and making false statements.

In July 2015, the Homeland Security Advisory Council released their Interim Report of the CPB Integrity Advisory Panel, which says, “…corruption is the Achilles heel of border agencies,” and that the “true levels of corruption … are not known.” CBP has been assigned an impossible task.

Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol in the 1920s. It resulted in widespread corruption of law enforcement and the political establishment, and the rise of organized crime. Marijuana prohibition has no better track record.

Gangs have flourished, good cops have been corrupted, border patrol agents are bribed, and innocent people get caught in the crosshairs of gang violence. Perhaps we were much smarter in the 1920s – it only took our ancestors 13 years to repeal their prohibition law.

If we really want to weaken the cartels or promote an effective policy concerning marijuana use, then we should be following the example Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia have already set by legalizing marijuana.

Marijuana use or abuse should never have been considered a law enforcement issue. Instead, it should be treated as a private issue – one that can be addressed by family members, counselors, and faith and community leaders.

Richard Newton, who lives in El Paso, spent 32 years in federal service. He’s a retired major for the U.S. Marines and a retired drug interdiction pilot for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Editorial: Texas must move ahead on medical marijuana

Longview News-Journal

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Longview News-Journal

As of last week, 25 states have enacted laws allowing the use of medical marijuana — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was the latest to sign a bill passed by his state’s Legislature.

Many more states soon will be following the trend that began 20 years ago (in California, not surprisingly), allowing treatment for debilitating seizures and chronic seizures by using medical forms of marijuana. In some cases it is the only prescription that works.

That’s true for a number of people in the Longview area. We don’t know how many but over the past few years several have stepped forward asking for help in getting medical marijuana approved in Texas.

Alexis Bortell, 10, once lived in Texas but left the state for Colorado after her daily problems with seizures became resistant to any drug her doctors could prescribe here.

Now, in 430 days of medical marijuana treatment, Alexis has been seizure free.

Jacy Poole of Lakeport met with Alexis and her family last weekend. Jacy has similar problems but without the ability to move to another state. She needs help now, in Texas. So do many others.

And it is well nigh past time Texas lawmakers step up to the plate and provide meaningful legislation to help them live with confidence rather than constant pain or the fear that any moment they will suffer a seizure.

Every seizure causes some amount of brain damage, too. This is not merely a matter of convenience.

We find it odd there is so much resistance to medical marijuana from law-and-order types when the medical profession already uses painkillers that are far more potent and addictive. Morphine has been used decades and is both powerful and addictive. New painkillers are introduced with regularity and officials are always fearful of how they will be abused.

This is not a problem with medical marijuana because, frankly, it has been used illegally for years. Allowing its medical use is not going to increase the illegal use at this point.

Yet such measures are always called controversial, and we do not understand why. Such moves are supported by both liberal and conservative members of the Texas Legislature. Medical marijuana has no ideological bent, it just helps people and last we knew that was supposedly the aim of everyone in the Legislature.

Many understandingly oppose the outright legalization of marijuana, as we have in the past. But anyone who takes a few minutes to understand the facts realizes this isn’t about making the party more lively but making lives more liveable.

For Alexis, Jacy and untold other Texans who would be helped, the Legislature should pass, and Gov. Greg Abbott must approve, meaningful medical marijuana legislation in the coming session.