Category Archives: News

Veteran pushes pot for PTSD treatment

Posted by Leah Durain, KBMT on 12 News here at 10:32pm CDT March 23, 2017

JEFFERSON COUNTY – United States service men and women encounter challenges throughout the course of their military careers. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a battle that sometimes continues even after a veteran puts away their combat boots.

In 23 states, medical marijuana is allowed for treatment of PTSD. Texas is not on that list. A lawmaker from San Antonio is wanting to change that.

State Senator José Menédez filed bill 269, hoping to help make medicinal marijuana available in Texas, just like many other prescription drugs on the market.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 83% of Texans support making marijuana legal for medical purposes.

Menédez says he would like to see more health conditions, like PTSD,  added to the list of illnesses available for medicinal marijuana use.

Admitting to experimenting with marijuana in the past to ease PTSD bouts, and with the practice being illegal in Texas, the former Marine did not want to be identified by name. The veteran is sharing his story because he believes medical marijuana could be the difference between life and death for veterans across the nation battling PTSD.

“I’ve been blown up seven times. I killed my first man three days before I turned 21,” said the veteran.  “I want to let people know what we go through on a daily basis.”

As a corporal in the Marines, the Jefferson County man spent 2006 and 2007 in Iraq. Since getting out of the military in 2008 he’s been working to adjust to civilian life.

“I wake up during the night covered in sweat, scared out of my mind… I’m at that point where I just want to end it.”

He says it’s been a struggle to find relief from the torment.

“We’re fighting a losing battle,” explained the veteran. “Twenty-two veterans a day take their own lives. Any other group of people that would be unacceptable. But for some reason for our veterans, it’s ok. We didn’t fight a war alone, we shouldn’t fight this battle alone.”

This vet is asking Texas lawmakers to step up and make medical marijuana a legal treatment option for military members with PTSD.

“If the government would legalize it, I could take a couple of puffs of something and all of a sudden my problems are gone.”

He wants to find a solution and has already reached out for help.
The vet has tried six or seven medications prescribed through the local Veterans Affairs clinic.

“I’ll feel like a stranger in my own skin, I won’t think the way I normally think, I won’t act the way I normally act.”

Another devastating side effect has been complications starting a family.

“I want to be a Dad.”

The vet and his wife have been trying to have a child but he says the medications are making it difficult.

In an analysis of four commonly prescribed medications for PTSD, sexual problems were included in a list of side effects.

Other common side effects listed by WebMD were diarrhea, dizziness, trouble sleeping and vision problems. The website offered dozens of possible complications ranging from common to more rare.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs published an article written by Marcel O. Bonn-Miller, Ph.D. and Glenna S. Rousseau, Ph.D., discouraging veterans to use marijuana to treat PTSD because:

“Research suggests that marijuana can be harmful to individuals with PTSD… studies have not been conducted to evaluate the safety or effectiveness of medical marijuana for PTSD.”

Other concerns include the potential for chronic bronchitis, extended use leading to addiction and that marijuana could cause problems with brain development in juveniles.

Another study done by researchers in Denmark links pot use to lower sperm count; ironically a potential barrier to growing a family.

These cons are something the veteran says he would take over the list of side effects on his pill bottles.

Dozens of other states allow PTSD to be treated with medical marijuana. Veterans Affairs is not required to cover the cost. Federally, marijuana is still illegal and classified as a “Schedule I” controlled substance. This means private insurance won’t pay for it, even in states that have decriminalized pot.

In states where all adults 21 and up are allowed to buy recreational marijuana, there’s still a cost difference if you get a note from the doctor. A blog in Colorado estimates it costs a medicinal patient $329.88 a month to treat PTSD with marijuana but a recreational purchaser using edible style pot would have to shell out $654.64.

For the Texas born and bred veteran, the Lone Star State has a lot of catching up to do.

“How many of my brothers would still be alive if they had medical marijuana?”

He says veterans lives are hanging in the balance and it’s up to lawmakers to send a life-raft.

12News reached out to Texas lawmakers to see where they would stand on a bill allowing medical marijuana as a legal PTSD treatment option. As of press time, none have offered up comment.

Texans wanting to see Senator Menédez’s comprehensive medical marijuana bill pass through the state legislature are encouraged to call up their local representative and let them know.

© 2017 KBMT-TV

When the One Drug You Believe Protects Your Child Could Put You in Jail

Posted by Naomi Martin on Dallas News here

In the dark, Christy Zartler plucks a pair of jeans and a T-shirt from the closet and lays them on the bed. She opens the blinds, and sunlight fills the pink bedroom on a quiet Richardson street.

“Hey, girl,” she sings. “Guess what? It’s Friday! Friday means fun day!”

Kara, 17, sits up and stares in her mother’s eyes. Then she brings her palm to her ear, poised to start doing what, by now, more than 70 million people have seen her do on Facebook.

“No,” her mother says.

Kara starts smashing the base of her palm against her ear. Over and over.

Kara Zartler cries and pulls her hair in a fit of self-abuse this month at her home in Richardson. She suffers the fits at least a few times a week, sometimes several in a day.  (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler cries and pulls her hair in a fit of self-abuse this month at her home in Richardson. She suffers the fits at least a few times a week, sometimes several in a day.  (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Kara, a 98-pound girl with gray-blue eyes and short brown hair, has severe autism and cerebral palsy. The blows are a symptom of her autism, though no one knows what triggers them. Right now, she’s not hitting that hard. At her most intense, though, she makes herself bleed and breaks her own bones. It takes two people to restrain her while a third person grabs her “rescue” meds. If she’s able to wriggle free, she fights back. She’s bitten into the bone of her mother’s finger. Her school has documented her hitting herself 3,000 times in one day.

The family has tried prescription drugs, but the only remedy they have found that soothes Kara quickly and effectively is marijuana.

Her father, Mark Zartler, gives it to her using a vaporizer attached to a medical mask. Just owning the drug is a crime punishable by six months in jail.

Kara Zartler punches herself in the head with both fists as her father Mark places a medical mask over her nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor in an effort to control her fit of self-abuse on March 18 in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler punches herself in the head with both fists as her father Mark places a medical mask over her nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor in an effort to control her fit of self-abuse on March 18 in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Can marijuana help?

The Zartlers want Texas lawmakers to pass a bill, currently on file in Austin, that would legalize marijuana for autism patients under a doctor’s care. Such a bill is unlikely to pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where many conservatives remain unconvinced the unproven treatment is a good idea.

To persuade lawmakers, Mark and Christy decided to make a video last month about their struggle — despite the possibilities of getting in trouble with the police or Child Protective Services.

The video shows Kara punching herself and yelling. Mark places a clear-plastic medical mask over Kara’s nose and mouth and fills it with marijuana vapor. Within minutes, Kara is calm.

Mark posted the video to his Facebook page. It went viral and made national news.

“Somebody has to be the poster child,” Mark Zartler said earlier this month while sitting at the family’s kitchen table, next to a cross on the wall. “This is the only medicine that will calm her down when she’s aggressive. It’s certainly safer than her punching herself in the face. It’s certainly safer than her autism drugs.”

Mark knows he may go to jail over his advocacy. He has tried to limit his criminal exposure by getting rid of pot brownies, cookies and oils — which he says are effective for Kara, but could be considered felonies. He keeps only a small amount of marijuana in the house, with the understanding that anything less than 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor.

The parents want lawmakers to see the dilemma they face: If they allow Kara to hit herself, they’re negligent. But the best method they have to get her to stop makes them criminals.

Neither parent has a criminal record, except for the time Mark was arrested for drinking in college.

Two weeks ago, a woman working for CPS knocked on the Zartlers’ door, and Mark showed her his marijuana vaporizer. Now, the worker wants the parents to take drug tests and meet with her supervisor. The Zartlers have hired an attorney.

Premature kids

Mark, a software engineer, and Christy, a pediatric nurse, married in 1994. Christy hoped she’d get pregnant right away. But five years went by, and it didn’t happen. She grew depressed. Every Mother’s Day stung.

The couple eventually spent $25,000 on in vitro fertilization. Christy became pregnant on the first try with identical twins. They felt it was a blessing from God.

The baby girls — Keeley and Kara — were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Still, she grew well for the first three years of her life. She sang along to music. She called to her mom “Mama,” and said “bubbles” when she got in the tub. Her parents logged the number of words she spoke: 68.

<p>Baby photos of Kara Zartler and her twin sister Keeley, and the sisters at age 17.&nbsp;<span style="font-size: 1em; line-height: 1.364; background-color: transparent;">The twins were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and later, autism.</span><span style="font-size: 1em; line-height: 1.364; background-color: transparent;">&nbsp;(Left: Smiley N. Pool/DMN; Right: Shaun McAlister)</span></p>

Baby photos of Kara Zartler and her twin sister Keeley, and the sisters at age 17. The twins were born three months premature. Keeley developed healthily, but at 15 months, Kara was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and later, autism. (Left: Smiley N. Pool/DMN; Right: Shaun McAlister)

But around age 3, Kara stopped speaking. She made less eye contact. She started hitting other kids. By 4, she was punching herself in the head. Her fits would come daily or weekly — without notice — and sometimes last for hours. Her parents took turns holding her arms back for 30 minutes at a time.

“Autism took her,” Christy said. “She’s no longer a person that can talk and tell me how she feels. You feel grief for the child that’s living right in front of you.”

One in 68 American children has autism, and self-injury affects about 28 percent of children with autism disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, Kara’s parents say her symptoms are more severe than her peers’.

Kara started taking Risperidone, an antipsychotic medication typically used for schizophrenia, at age 6, and it helped. Over time, though, she needed a higher and higher dosage as her body built up a tolerance.

When Kara was 9, Christy recalled, a pharmacist was shocked at the dosage.

“This is what I’d give a 2,000-pound horse,” she remembered him saying. “I’d never give this to a 49-pound girl.”

Risperidone turned Kara into a “zombie,” her parents said. She drooled and had less interest in her surroundings.

Kara’s self-punching fits continued. She broke her nose and, another time, her eye socket. In one instance, she ended up in an emergency room and was given morphine. Even that drug couldn’t stop her.

Now she has “cauliflower ears,” swollen and deformed, like those of a boxer.

When Kara was 11, the Zartlers’ pot-smoking neighbor asked if the family had ever given her marijuana. Mark and Christy looked at each other and laughed.

Even so, they accepted his offer of a weed brownie. A few weeks later, they gave Kara a piece of the brownie before a family trip to Galveston.

Kara Zartler at the beach in Galveston as a young girl. Her severe autism developed around age 4.&nbsp;
Kara Zartler at the beach in Galveston as a young girl. Her severe autism developed around age 4.

Usually those trips were filled with Kara punching herself and yelling. But this time, she was calm the entire five-hour ride. She made more eye contact and took an interest in looking out the window.

“We were euphoric,” Christy said. “The cannabis helps her leave her autistic traits and enter this world of communication and existence.”

Over the past six years, Mark and Christy said, cannabis has proved to be the only medicine that works every time. Kara’s doctors told the family it is good they found something that works, but the doctors could not recommend breaking the law.

The Zartlers considered moving to Colorado — or another of the 28 states where medical marijuana is legal. But both Mark and Christy take care of their elderly parents here.

In the past 12 months, the Zartlers said, Kara has developed faster than she had in the past nine years.

Kara makes eye contact more often. She can pull her pants up and take them off. She can flip a light switch. Some days, she can go to the bathroom by herself. She can use a fork.

Also, her parents said, her personality has emerged. She’s started rolling her eyes more. When Christy joked that Kara, who loves food, was going to “eat us out of this house,” Kara looked over and laughed.

“Oh, my God,” Christy said. “I’ve never known my girl. This is the first time I’ve gotten to really meet her and meet her personality. She’s sassy.”

Christy Zartler hugs her daughter Kara at their Richardson home. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler hugs her daughter Kara at their Richardson home. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

They attribute these gains to cutting back her Risperidone and giving her regular doses of a cannabis oil called CBD, which is legal and creates no high because of its low levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana. The family uses ground-up marijuana leaves, which are illegal and contain high levels of THC, as Kara’s emergency “rescue.”

The Zartlers had never been activists. But they thought it was cruel that they could be arrested just for helping their child. They wanted the law to change so Kara could someday live in a group home and still receive the medicine she needs. And they wanted to help other families who care for children with severe autism.

Mark pondered making a video for months before deciding to do it. If people saw the Zartlers’ reality for themselves, maybe they would understand, he thought. This could be Kara’s purpose. This could be why God gave her to them.

Mark let his dad know about his idea.

You need to stay quiet, his dad said. You’ll get arrested.

But Mark was tired of being quiet.

Advocating for pot

Texas lawmakers have filed bills in both the House and the Senate that would legalize marijuana for autistic patients. But the chance either will pass is small.

“Frankly, this is an uphill battle,” said Sen. José Menéndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the Senate bill. “In a state where we value people’s independence and we value professional medical advice, it should be easy to say doctors know what’s best, but … politically, some people are afraid of being seen as being pro-pot, if you will.”

During spring break in March, the Zartlers dropped off Kara at a weeklong camp and headed to Austin with Keeley to lobby Republican lawmakers who control both chambers.

Christy Zartler  consults her notes for her next meeting while shuffling between meetings at the Texas state capitol on March 15, 2017, in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler consults her notes for her next meeting while shuffling between meetings at the Texas state capitol on March 15, 2017, in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

They met in the Capitol cafeteria with their group, Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism. MAMMA was started in Texas in 2014 and now has 300 member families in the state. A dozen of the moms wore black-and-red T-shirts. Some brought their autistic children.

Many wore crosses and described themselves as conservative Christian Republicans. Like Mark and Christy, they never imagined they’d lobby on behalf of marijuana legalization until they saw it helped their kids.

In a stairwell outside the House floor, the Zartlers met with Rep. James White, a Woodville Republican. Nearby, a historic flag hung, inscribed with the words LIBERTY OR DEATH.

White said he’d seen Kara’s video and was interested in what the research showed.

“If we had validated, peer-reviewed research, obviously, yes, I will support this,” White said. “Why would I not support it?”

Mark, a Republican himself, understood why a guy like White would be hesitant to back them. He explained that doctors and researchers are in a “catch-22.” They want to study marijuana, but their hands are tied because it’s illegal.

“We came out, and now CPS is coming after us,” Mark said. “If they come out and support it, they’re taking a career risk.”

Still, White agreed to sign on as a co-author of the House bill.

A mom in the group hugged White. The Zartlers teared up.

Members of the Texas-based group Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism wait in a side room for a meeting with the staff of Sen. Dawn Buckingham at the Texas Capitol on March 15 in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Members of the Texas-based group Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism wait in a side room for a meeting with the staff of Sen. Dawn Buckingham at the Texas Capitol on March 15 in Austin. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Mark and Christy spent the day hustling from one legislator’s office to another, passing through portrait-lined halls filled with tourists and schoolchildren. Over and over, staffers told the family they were moved while watching Kara’s video.

“If you’re not feeling it, you’re not living,” said Terry Franks, chief of staff for Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, who also sponsored the House bill.

But not all lawmakers were encouraging.

The Zartlers met with a staffer for Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, a former nurse who championed a law last session that legalized CBD, a cannabis extract that creates no high, for epileptic patients. In her office, a gold frame encased a photo of her and the words: “FORMER FETUS.”

Mark told the aide about his situation with CPS. He was worried about what could happen.

“All of a sudden, I’m a horrible criminal,” he said. “They’re gonna make me move out of the house because I’m an abusive father. It makes no sense.”

The staffer, who permitted a reporter to observe the exchange on condition that he not be named, was sympathetic but said his boss wasn’t ready to support their cause.

“At some point, they’re gonna figure out why it’s working,” Mark said. “But until that point, we’ve already figured out that it is working.”

Outside, none of the parents smiled as they flipped through their notes for their next meeting.

“It’s politics,” Mark shrugged.

He looked at his cellphone and saw he missed a call from CPS.

The political landscape

The portion of Texans who believe marijuana should remain illegal for both recreational and medical uses has dropped in the past two years, from 24 percent to 17 percent. And 41 percent of Texas Republicans would legalize marijuana for recreational use, according to a February poll by The Texas Tribune and the University of Texas.

Broad segments of the Texas GOP’s base want legalization of some sort. Among them are libertarians and military veterans. About 1,400 veterans signed a petition asking Gov. Greg Abbott to let them use marijuana for post-traumatic stress disorder. A conservative Houston woman in her 80s, Ann Lee, founded Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition after her son became paraplegic in an accident and she saw how marijuana relieved his nerve pain.

Christy Zartler mixes Kara's morning medications, pills she has crushed into a powder, with a spoonful of honey before giving them to her daughter. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Christy Zartler mixes Kara’s morning medications, pills she has crushed into a powder, with a spoonful of honey before giving them to her daughter. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

In the current session, Republican politicians have been hesitant to openly oppose the medical marijuana bills.

Neither Abbott’s spokesman nor Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s responded to requests for comment.  Texas Values and the Eagle Forum, two of the state’s most conservative policy advocacy groups, also declined.

This year, the Republican Party of Texas called for allowing “doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to prescribed patients.”

Even so, the party opposes the House and Senate bills because they would enable people to get high — unlike the current cannabis extract that’s legal because it is low in THC.

“Legalizing drugs is not the answer,” said Michael Joyce, spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.

The Texas Sheriffs Association’s legislative chair, Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback, pointed to research that he said showed rises in emergency room visits, traffic crashes and unemployment in Colorado since legalization.

“We’re not unmindful of” families like the Zartlers, Louderback said. “But as Texas sheriffs, we see the ability to abuse this is huge.”

A lack of research

Doctors say the link between marijuana and autism needs further study.

“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence from parents like this,” said Dr. Gregory Barnes, the director of the University of Louisville Autism Center. “Unfortunately, there’s not really any research at all in autism that you could hang your hat on, in humans, that would validate those parents’ observations.”

He said the part of the brain that controls self-aggression is filled with cannabinoid receptors, suggesting cannabis compounds could work in those areas. In animal studies, researchers have found such compounds reduced obsessive-compulsive behaviors, Barnes said — but animals don’t hurt themselves the way humans do.

However, Barnes cautioned that THC, especially in high levels, could be “very toxic” and could cause brain lesions in children.

Because the federal government considers marijuana illegal, Barnes said, researchers must spend years and lots of money navigating regulations to study it. The result: Lawmakers don’t want to legalize a drug that isn’t fully researched. But science is delayed by the plant’s illegality.

In a wheelchair, Kara Zartler joined her family at a demonstration advocating for medical marijuana legalization. Her father Mark gives her marijuana to stop her from punching herself. (Family photo)&nbsp;
In a wheelchair, Kara Zartler joined her family at a demonstration advocating for medical marijuana legalization. Her father Mark gives her marijuana to stop her from punching herself. (Family photo)

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement in March 2015 opposing medical marijuana for kids except for “children with life-limiting or severely debilitating conditions and for whom current therapies are inadequate.”

Dr. Seth Ammerman, the statement’s lead author and a Stanford University pediatrician, said the Zartlers are a prime example of why the use of marijuana for autistic children needs to be studied further.

“We certainly need more science,” Ammerman said. “This is a compassionate use issue for families like this. They’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked. They’re not doing this to neglect or abuse their child — they’re doing it to help their child.”

Without warning

Kara’s fits come without warning, sometimes several a day, sometimes a few a week. She’s most stable when following a routine, so her parents take pains to stick to a schedule. Weekends are tough.

On a recent Saturday morning, Mark and Christy are at home with their daughters. Kara’s doing one of her favorite things — she kneels on her bed, wraps a yellow blanket around her head and body, and rocks back and forth. Her head hits a pillow her parents have put against the wall to protect her.

Kara Zartler wraps herself in her blanket, kneeling on her bed and rocking forward and back, one of her usual calming mechanisms, after getting home from school on Thursday, March 9, in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Kara Zartler wraps herself in her blanket, kneeling on her bed and rocking forward and back, one of her usual calming mechanisms, after getting home from school on Thursday, March 9, in Richardson. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

Her parents try to get Kara to stop so she can take her medicines. She keeps rocking. Finally, they coax her up. She starts slamming her palm into the side of her head.

Mark and Christy try to calm her. They hug her and whisper to her.

She keeps hitting.

They give her medicine for her allergies and stomach pains. No effect.

In the living room, sitting in a black leather armchair, Kara screams and cries. She pulls her hair  and strikes her cheeks and ears.

Kara becomes more agitated. Her cheeks are red and swollen. Scabs on her ears are about to break open and bleed. Mark and Christy decide she needs a marijuana “rescue.”

Mark Zartler restrains his daughter to keep her from hitting herself as he rocks with her in a chair after giving her a marijuana vapor treatment on Saturday, March 18, &nbsp;in Richardson. Within minutes, Kara was calm. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Mark Zartler restrains his daughter to keep her from hitting herself as he rocks with her in a chair after giving her a marijuana vapor treatment on Saturday, March 18,  in Richardson. Within minutes, Kara was calm. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)

In the kitchen, Mark grinds the soft green leaves. He measures out a small spoonful and heats it in a vaporizer. Christy fastens a pink helmet onto Kara’s head, and Kara punches her cheeks. Christy places her hands over Kara’s face.

“Yeah, just hit your helmet,” Christy says gently.

Mark arrives with the plastic bag filled with marijuana vapor and attaches it to a medical mask he places over Kara’s mouth and nose.

“Twinkle twinkle, little star,” Christy sings while holding Kara’s hands back as she inhales the vapor.

Mark puts Kara on his lap as he sits in the chair, rocking, with his arms wrapped around her in a bear hug.

After three minutes, Kara is calm. Her fists have loosened. Her frenzied breath has slowed.

“There we go,” Mark says. “Are you good to be on your own now? Let’s let Daddy get up and you sit down.”

She sits in the chair and rocks herself and hums. After a minute, she walks to a spot on the kitchen counter where her parents have placed a tupperware bucket filled with raw rice and red beans. Kara runs her hands through the grains, picking them up and bringing them to her face. She repeats the motion over and over.

A smile grows on Kara’s face as she plays. She’s calm for the rest of the day.

Texas House Hearing on Reducing Marijuana Penalties

 

Proposal to Reduce Marijuana Penalties in Texas to Receive Hearing TODAY in House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

At 3:30 p.m. CT, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will hold a pre-hearing media availability with supporters of HB 81, including retired Texas law enforcement officials, a Baker Institute fellow, and leaders of Texans for Accountable Government and the Texas Young Republican Federation

* Statements below from bill sponsor and Committee Chairman Joe Moody and retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney *

AUSTIN, Texas — A bill that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Texas is scheduled to receive a hearing today in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will hold a pre-hearing media availability at 3:30 p.m. CT outside of Room E2.014 in the State Capitol. The hearing is expected to begin later in the afternoon.

Supporters of the bill who plan to participate in the media availability and testify at the committee hearing include retired Texas District Judge John Delaney; retired Houston Police Department Lt. Jay Hall; Baker Institute fellow Dr. William Martin; Texans for Accountable Government Executive Director Michael Cargill; Texas Young Republican Federation President John Baucum; and Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. The measure is also supported by the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas Association of Business.

“I’m proud to present HB 81 to the committee and build on the bipartisan support it’s had from the very beginning,” said Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso). “This sort of reform crosses party lines because it’s a law enforcement issue, a business issue, a social justice issue, and a taxpayer issue we can be a lot smarter on. It’s time for Texas to take a nationwide lead on marijuana policy.”

HB 81, authored by Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) with 35 co-authors, would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

There were 61,749 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015, and there were more than 418,000 from 2010-2015, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. These arrests and subsequent prosecution have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts, and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. “Each marijuana arrest uses about 2.5 hours of police time. With 60,000-70,000 people arrested in Texas annually, this is a significant amount of police time that could be devoted to patrolling residential neighborhoods and business locations and responding to emergency calls.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in 2015, declaring it “strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana use” and encouraging pediatricians to “advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.”

More than two-thirds of Texans (68%) support reducing the penalty for low-level marijuana possession to a citation and $250 fine, according to a June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Only 26% were opposed.

# # #

Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy is a broad coalition of organizations, activists, and community leaders dedicated to realizing effective, efficient, and evidence-based marijuana policies in Texas. For more information, visithttps://www.TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org.

Will Texas Finally Decriminalize Small-Time Pot Possession This Year?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Originally published here by the San Antonio Current.

Marijuana reform in Texas is set to take center stage Monday as lawmakers in Austin discuss a bill that would eliminate the arrest, jail time, and criminal record associated with a small-time pot charge.

Advocates say House Bill 81, a bipartisan measure authored by Democrat Joe Moody and Republican Jason Isaac, actually has a decent chance of clearing the legislative hurdles it must overcome to make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk (where it’s still hazy if it would even get a signature). That’s because the bill, which would replace handcuffs and jail with a simple $250-max civil fine for anyone caught with an ounce or less of pot, is snaking its way through the legislature way earlier than similar measures did last session. In 2015, two bills that would have decriminalized pot possession gained preliminary approval from lawmakers but were never scheduled for debate before the full Texas House.

Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn’t expect that to happen with HB 81 this time around for a couple reasons. For one, Moody, the bill’s main author, boasts tough-on-crime bonafides as a former prosecutor and is vice chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which will hear testimony on the bill Monday. And assuming it makes it out of committee (where it’s being heard a month earlier than last session), pressure’s on to get it scheduled for a floor debate.

“Every minute maters when we’re on such a strict time limit with the Legislature,” Fazio told the Current. “That it’s being heard in committee this early, that gives us a lot more time to mobilize and build pressure and to move this issue forward.” She added that, if the House manages to take up pot reform this session, “it would be the first time they’ve seriously discussed a marijuana reform bill since the ’70s.”

Fazio says the public pressure part should be easy. Surveys and public opinion polls continue to show the majority of Texans favor decriminalizing pot, which has in recent years become one of those “right on crime” issues that conservatives have crossed the aisle to support.

And so have law enforcement. Consider that the state’s largest jurisdiction now won’t even bother prosecuting such small-time cases. As of this month, law enforcement officials in Harris County will no longer arrest and prosecute people caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana, a crime currently punishable under state law by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Under their new plan, all misdemeanor pot defendants have to do is pay $150 fine, take a “decision-making” class and they avoid jail time and a criminal record. With some 4.5 million people in the region, it’s almost like another state just decriminalized pot. And defense attorneys here have pointed out how Bexar County could save more than $9 million a year with a similar approach.

“It has taken the legislature a very long time to catch up with the public opinion of Texans on this,” Fazio says. “What your seeing is some local jurisdictions realizing that and reforming what they can now, on their own.”

Fazio says MPP is organizing people to testify before lawmakers on Monday about the human toll of the state’s current, harsh marijuana laws. Even as lawmakers in more than half of these United States have legalized cannabis in some form, in Texas a pot charge can still derail your life — significant jail time and a criminal charge that can threaten your job or even student financial aid. And the patchwork approach currently taking shape can lead to some very unequal consequences for the very same offense. Consider that in recent years, some Texas cops have even decided to stick their hands inside of peopleon the side of the road because they thought they smelled something skunky.

The thing is, HB 81 is actually one of the milder marijuana reforms proposed this session. It alone doesn’t address the number of other cannabis-related issues advocates desperately want the legislature to tackle — like a “medical marijuana” law that’s practically useless, or the fact that, because of the brain-twisting way Texas charges people caught with edibles, getting caught with too many pot brownies could carry a potential life sentence.

Marijuana laws here are still quite harsh, comparatively speaking. But if advocates are right and they manage to push HB 81 through this session, that would be a big sign that the Lone Star State’s finally starting to mellow on the issue.

Low-level marijuana possession penalties could be reduced with new bill

Published:

AUSTIN (KXAN) — State lawmakers will hear public testimony Monday on House Bill 81, which would reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession.

“House Bill 81 would eliminate the arrest, the jail time, and most importantly, the criminal record currently associated with small amounts of marijuana,” explained Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for theMarijuana Policy Project. “The bill will recalibrate penalties for low-level possession, making it a simple ticket, rather than jail time and a criminal record.”

According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2015, there were more than 60,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Texas, which made up more than 13 percent of all arrests in the state that year. It’s estimated those arrests and the subsequent prosecution cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.

Courtesy: Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy
Courtesy: Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy

Supporters of HB 81 argue that money could be better spent elsewhere.

“People want to feel safe in their communities and when we’re prosecuting and arresting people for simple marijuana possession, we’re not giving justice to violent crimes where victims deserve justice,” said Fazio. “It is absolutely outrageous when burglary clearance rates are low, and violent and property crime is going unsolved.”

What makes matters worse, supporters say, is that a majority of low-level possession charges are dismissed.

“When we’re seeing upwards of 50 percent of cases for marijuana possession in Travis County being dismissed, their resources are being thrown out the window and their time is being wasted. We have better things to do with our time,” added Fazio.

However, some people in law enforcement don’t see it that way.

“We still think that’s an accountability of prosecutors to their voters,” said Jackson County Sheriff A.J. “Andy” Louderback, who serves as the legislative director for theSheriffs’ Association of Texas.

The association is opposed to HB 81 and any form of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, even in small amounts. “Generally, as a social cost of the use of the drug, we believe strong that it’s always been a gateway drug.”

Representatives of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy tell KXAN supporters of HB 81 include a retired Texas judge and a former Houston police lieutenant, who will testify Monday in favor of the bill.

“They know that criminal justice resources are scarce, and they can be used in a much better way,” Fazio said.

A recent poll shows that 83 percent of Texans support medical marijuana, according to the University of Texas and Texas Tribune. The poll also found that 53 percent of Texans support legalization of marijuana for any purpose.

“Prosecutors are overburdened with marijuana possession cases, rather than giving cases like domestic violence, for example, the attention they deserve. Our law enforcement officers are distracted when they’re arresting thousands of people every year for the simple possession of this plant, that the majority of Americans and Texans would prefer to see decriminalized, Fazio said.

Two years ago, Texas lawmakers passed a law legalizing the use of low THC cannabis oil for epilepsy patients. The Texas Department of Public Safety is going to oversee the program when it begins next fall.

In December, Texas Senator Jose Menendez filed Senate Bill 269 to expand medical marijuana use for patients with debilitating and chronic medical conditions.

“I filed this bill because doctors, not politicians, should determine the best treatment for severely ill Texans,” Menendez said. “This is a legitimate medicine that can help a variety of sick people from a grandmother suffering from cancer to a veteran coping with PTSD.”

Right now, 28 states have legalized medical cannabis.

A bill to decriminalize marijuana is getting a hearing in the Texas house

Texas Pot smokers may be one step closer to celebrating in the streets.

A bill seeking to decriminalize the use and possession of small quantities of marijuana has been scheduled for a hearing at the Texas State Capitol.

House Bill 81, which aims to categorize low-level marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, will be will be argued in front of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 13th.

The committee will hear witness testimony from experts, as well as people who have been convicted or arrested for marijuana-related offenses, according to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

Authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, House Bill 81 would make the possession of 1-2 ounces of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor. In addition, the possession of a small amount of marijuana would result in a civil penalty not exceeding $250. Up to 4 ounces of marijuana would result in a Class A misdemeanor, while any more than that would still result in a felony.

The weed-friendly bill comes on the heals of a policy recently implemented by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, which allows people caught with up to 4 ounces of pot to take a four-hour drug-education class instead of going to jail.

When Ogg’s plan was announced, Moody said he believed it would give this bill momentum.

“What the DA in Harris County is doing is exercising her discretion as allowed under the law,” Moody said in a Feb. 16 story on Chron.com. “I support that program. It’s smart in cases of this type. Her predecessor had a similar policy issue. This is not a partisan issue.”

However, not ever politician in Austin was as excited about the Houston plan as Moody, with notable push back from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“The lieutenant governor has said repeatedly regarding sanctuary cities that he does not believe that law enforcement has the discretion to choose what laws to enforce and what laws to ignore,” Patrick press secretary Alejandro Garcia told Chron.com in February. “That is his position regarding DA Ogg’s proposal.”

In the Senate, where Patrick presides, companion bill SB 170 was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee on Jan. 25.

Texas House Bill 81 has been scheduled for a hearing!

Monday, March 13: Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to Consider HB 81

House Bill 81, authored by Chairman Joe Moody (D) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R) , would eliminate the arrest, jail time, and criminal record associated with low-level marijuana possession. The bill will be considered by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, March 13th.

Call to Action!

1)  To show your support for the bill, come to the Texas State Capitol and sign up in support of HB 81.  You can register your support starting at 8 a.m. and until the conclusion our hearing. (Instructions and a video demo.)

2)  Provide the committee a testimonial if you have personal or professional experience. Testimony can be provided several ways: written and submitted via email to the committee clerk ([email protected]), written/printed (12 copies) and submitted in person on the day of the hearing, or verbally to the committee (2 minutes).

When visiting the Capitol, please always dress professionally.

We will have a large volume of witnesses, so unless you have been arrested or convicted for a small amount of cannabis, or you are someone with particular expertise, it is best to simply register your support. If you plan to stay and testify in person, please let us know ([email protected]) so we can coordinate testimony, and please bring 12 copies of your printed testimony to submit to the committee clerk.

Unable to travel to Austin? You can still help! Contact your legislators in support of sensible marijuana policy. Also, follow this Facebook event for live updates and a link to the live stream.

Texas marijuana policy reforms need your help

Ask your state legislators to stop jailing and criminalizing cannabis users and to make Texas’ medical marijuana program workable and inclusive!

The Texas legislative session is in full swing, and a dozen marijuana policy-related bills have been introduced for consideration. Our priorities in Texas include instituting a civil penalty (simple ticket) for low-level marijuana possession and making the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive for patients with debilitating medical conditions. Each of these proposals have been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate!
Please write your lawmakers in support of these long-overdue reforms: a simple ticket for simple possession and a truly compassionate medical cannabis program.
Then, check out this snapshot review of our priority legislation:
Civil Penalties:
House Bill 81, Chairman Joe Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac – Reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession: no arrest, no jail time, no criminal record (policy overview)
Status: Referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
Companion: Senate Bill 170, Sen. José Rodríguez. (Status: Referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee)
Medical Cannabis:
Senate Bill 269, Sen. José Menéndez – Make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive: add qualifying conditions, lift cap on THC, make workable by fixing flawed “prescription” language (policy overview)
Status: Referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee
Companion: House Bill 2107, Rep. Eddie Lucio III and Rep. Jason Isaac. (Status: Filed)
Find a full Texas marijuana policy review here (all 12 bills), and share this email with any friends or family members who might be interested in supporting reform in Texas.

Texas Could Lose Millions Of Tax Dollars If It Stalls Medical Marijuana

Texas has the potential to rival Colorado in marijuana sales, but the state seems intent on keeping the medical marijuana program from becoming a reality. (Photo by Shutterstock)

The Texas Compassionate Use Act was signed into law on June 1, 2015, by Governor Greg Abbott. However, it appears the state might not implement the medical marijuana program it passed and could walk away from millions in potential tax revenues.

One of the major obstacles to establishing the program in Texas is that the state law requires doctors to write a prescription for the medical marijuana. Since marijuana is still federally illegal and a controlled substance, doctors can’t legally write a prescription for it. In addition, a prescription must be filled by a pharmacy, not a dispensary. Doctors are protected if they recommend medical marijuana, not prescribe it. The law would have to be amended and in this current climate they may not be able to get that done. “We’re concerned it’s not ever get off the ground, if we’re not able to change that language in the law,” said Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana.

Another problem with the program is the severely limited patient population. Intractable epilepsy is the only approved disease in the Texas program, leaving cancer patients, pain sufferers and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder unable to legally get the medicine. A bill has been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate to expand the patient population. Greenwave Advisors Matt Karnes said that if Texas included the typical qualifying conditions that other states have designated – there would be a patient population of 1.9 million.

Karnes said, assuming commercial availability by 2019 with an expanded set of patients, medical marijuana sales in Texas could reach $600 million by 2021. That’s roughly half of Colorado’s market, where the state is currently reaping $200 million on total recreational and medicinal marijuana sales of $1.3 billion. However, Karnes noted that if Texas went so far as to legalize recreational marijuana, it would rival Colorado. “A recreational market, assuming implementation in 2019 would reach approximately $1.2 billion and hit approximately $1.7 billion in 2021,” said Karnes. He based his calculations on what has been observed in existing legal markets. If Texas were able to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana by 2019, Karnes believes the market would total $1.4 billion and by 2021 $2.3 billion.

The Texas law only legalizes a low-THC cannabis with the cannabidiol compound equaling 10%, with the THC portion no higher that 0.5%. The state has until September 2017 to issue at least three licenses. There has been bipartisan support to expand the list of approved diseases, but the governor is very much against any type of legalized marijuana. Seventy-five percent of Texans favor marijuana law reform, according to a 2015 Texas Lyceum poll. Last week a group of military veterans delivered a petition signed by 1,400 vets requesting an in-person meeting to advocate for a more inclusive program.

Separately, the state is grappling with a contradiction in its approaches to marijuana. District Attorney Kim Ogg of Harris County, which includes Houston, said that as of March 1, she would no longer arrest or prosecute most marijuana cases. Instead people found in possession of marijuana will be diverted to a four-hour class. “We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” she said. “We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation.”

The state’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick criticized the move, while at the same time a new bill was introduced that would decrease penalties for possession of an ounce of marijuana resulting in a ticket not to exceed $250. “We definitely face a challenge with the governor,” said Fazio. “Even though he signed the bill, he has still said he was still convinced that we shouldn’t open up the door to broader use of marijuana even medicinally.” Fazio does think that if the conservative politicians are willing to pass legislation expanding medical marijuana, she doesn’t think Abbott will stand in the way.

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