JOSHUA FECHTER : JUNE 30, 2014 : Updated: June 30, 2014 5:37pm
AUSTIN — A national marijuana group is ramping up efforts to ease penalties for marijuana users in Texas and create a pathway to legalizing the drug statewide by 2019.
Heather Fazio, political director for the Marijuana Policy Project’s Texas arm, said the organization is drafting three bills to pitch to state legislators that would create legal protections for medical marijuana usage for patients and allow the drug to be taxed and regulated in the same manner as alcohol.
The focus comes after Colorado and Washington lifted state prohibitions on pot and legalized it for personal use for adults 21 and over.
Fazio called Texas “a critical state in the movement to repeal marijuana prohibition in America.”
“We are ramping up our efforts in light of what happened in those two states and that a growing number of Texans for in favor of legalizing marijuana and making it available to adults, just like alcohol,” Fazio said.
But, those efforts face an uphill climb in a deeply conservative state where lawmakers may be wary of the effects of legalization.
“The hard part is stepping away from this culture of fear, of being afraid to talk about this issue,” Fazio said.
Hope may lie in Texas’ right-wing insurgents who decry perceived federal overreach in areas deemed private, Fazio said, citing remarks by Gov. Rick Perry at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this year that he’s for the decriminalization of marijuana use, but not legalization.
“As governor, I have begun to implement policies that start us toward a decriminalization” by introducing alternative “drug courts” that provide treatment and softer penalties for minor offenses, Perry said.
But, Texas Republicans rejected adding medical marijuana to their party platform during their convention in early June.
Matt Mackowiak, an Austin-based Republican consultant, said he doesn’t foresee sweeping marijuana legislation passing during the 2015 legislative session — especially with pressing issues such as the budget, water and transportation likely to suck up much of the session’s oxygen.
However, Mackowiak said he wouldn’t rule out a smaller move toward decriminalization making its way through the Legislature. But, that relies on lawmakers’ willingness to take up the topic.
“I don’t know that that risk vs. reward calculation ended up being in favor of taking action on marijuana,” Mackowiak said.