Can Marijuana Ease the Opioid Epidemic?

February 21, 2017 | By Christine Vestal
Originally published by Stateline.

NEW YORK — After a 12-year battle with debilitating abdominal conditions that forced her to stop working, marijuana has helped Lynn Sabulski feel well enough to look for a job.

Sabulski is among nearly 14,000 patients in New York state who are certified to use medical marijuana for one of 10 conditions, including her primary diagnosis, inflammatory bowel disease. Marijuana doesn’t address her underlying disease, but it does relieve her painful symptoms.

Nationwide, an estimated 1.4 million patients in 28 states and the District of Columbia use legal medical marijuana for a varying list of conditions. A much smaller number of patients in 16 states use limited extracts of the plant, primarily to treat seizure disorders.

In the midst of an opioid crisis, some medical practitioners and researchers believe that greater use of marijuana for pain relief could result in fewer people using the highly addictive prescription painkillersthat led to the epidemic.

A 2016 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that states with medical marijuana laws had 25 percent fewer opioid overdose deaths than states that do not have medical marijuana laws. And another study published in Health Affairs last year found that prescriptions for opioid painkillers such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet paid for by Medicare dropped substantially in states that adopted medical marijuana laws.

In December, the New York Health Department said it would start allowing some patients with certain types of chronic pain to use marijuana as long as they have tried other therapies. The state’s original medical marijuana law, along with those in Connecticut, Illinois, New Hampshire and New Jersey, did not include chronic pain as an allowable condition for marijuana use, in part over concerns that such a broad category of symptoms could result in widespread and potentially inappropriate use of the controversial medicine.

Advocates for greater use of medical marijuana argue that including chronic pain as an allowable condition could result in even further reductions in dangerous opioid use.

But some physicians remain cautious about recommending the botanical medicine as a pain management tool.

Opioid Epidemic

Scant Research

Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, which promotes the use of alternatives to opioids for chronic pain, said she does not recommend that her patients try marijuana.

“There is no doubt marijuana is much safer than opiates. So we don’t discourage its use.” But in general, she said, “non-drug treatments are far more helpful than any drug treatment, and marijuana is a drug.”

At Mount Sinai Hospital here in the city, Dr. Houman Danesh, director of integrative pain management, suggests patients try physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, stem cell therapy, nutrition counseling, hypnosis and behavioral health counseling before resorting to opioids or any other medications. He said lack of sufficient research to back up marijuana’s safety and efficacy has kept him from adding it to his pain management toolkit, but he doesn’t rule it out in the near future.

In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released a review of 10,000 medical marijuana studies published since 1999, showing that substantial evidence supports the use of marijuana or its extracts for the treatment of chronic pain. Existing research also supports its effectiveness in treating multiple-sclerosis-related muscle spasms and chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, according to the literature review. But the study cautioned that both the positive and negative health effects of marijuana need to be studied further.

Historically, research on marijuana has been hamstrung by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which classifies marijuana along with heroin and LSD as illegal substances with “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” As a result, the supply of legal marijuana that can be studied and federal funds to pursue academic research are limited.

Slow and Cautious

Since 1996, when California voters ushered in the first law legalizing medical marijuana, the progression of states adopting similar laws has been slow and steady. California’s law was only one paragraph long and it didn’t limit the use of marijuana to any specific conditions. Since then, most state laws have included more detail about marijuana’s allowable uses.

Enacted in 2014, New York’s medical marijuana law is considered among the most cautious in the nation. Americans for Safe Access, a patient advocacy group, gives the state a letter grade of C when it comes to balancing product safety and ease of access to the emerging medicine.

New York allows doctors to certify patients to purchase marijuana at a limited number of highly regulated dispensaries — 20 statewide, including four in New York City — for the treatment of 10 conditions: cancer, HIV infection or AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord damage, epilepsy, inflammatory bowel disease, neuropathies and Huntington’s disease.

In the fall, after two years of operation, the state health agency declared its medical marijuana program a success and expanded its rules to allow nurse practitioners to certify patients for marijuana use. The state also approved home delivery for patients too ill to travel and announced it would certify more manufacturers of marijuana extracts to increase the supply of tinctures, liquid capsules, sprays and vape cartridges available for patients who rely on them.

Dr. Howard Shapiro discusses a patient’s progress with assistant Alexandra Lotito at his midtown Manhattan office. Shapiro says marijuana shows promise as an alternative to opioid painkillers and other prescription drugs in treating a wide range of conditions.
© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Remarkable Results

Sibulski’s physician, Dr. Howard Shapiro, started certifying patients for marijuana about a year ago and quickly became a believer. He’s one of only 371 doctors out of nearly 33,000 in the city’s five boroughs registered to certify patients for medical marijuana. Statewide, only 863 out of roughly 96,000 physicians have signed up for the program.

Technically, doctors can’t prescribe marijuana for their patients because federal law prohibits it. But under New York and most other state laws, doctors can verify that patients are suffering from an allowable condition, which authorizes patients to purchase marijuana on their own at a regulated dispensary. So far, Medicaid, Medicare and most private insurance do not cover medical marijuana, so patients must pay out of pocket.

As a primary care doctor who takes a holistic approach to medicine, Shapiro said trying medical marijuana was a natural for him. But he said he worried that “a bunch of druggies would start showing up.” Instead, he said the patients he began seeing were all very sick and none of them appeared to be seeking drugs for fun. The improvement he saw in those first patients was remarkable, he said.

“I really think medical marijuana is the drug of the future,” Shapiro said. “We’re going to find out that it does a lot of things we already think it can do, but don’t have scientific studies to prove it.”

Out of 109 patients he’s seen over the past year, all but a handful reported substantial improvement in their pain and other symptoms within a month or two of using medical marijuana, he said.

For Shapiro’s patients, the cost of marijuana treatment ranges from $300 to $400 a month, depending on their level of use. Sibulski said her monthly bill is about $400.

“I urge my patients to purchase only a two-week supply at first, so they don’t waste money on a dose that may not be effective,” Shapiro said. Most patients start out with a 1-to-1 ratio of THC, the intoxicating component of marijuana, to CBD, the second major component, which has proven to be medically effective for a range of conditions.

Patients typically need to work with the dispensary to adjust their ratio so that the medication alleviates their symptoms but doesn’t get them too high to function, Shapiro explained. It’s a trial-and-error process, he said.

Most marijuana patients take a tincture or liquid capsule every four to six hours during the day and use a vape pen to inhale a faster-acting dose of marijuana extract when they have breakthrough symptoms. Sibulski said she uses a vape pen before she gets out of bed in the morning, because it almost instantly wards off her abdominal spasms. She then takes an oral dose, which kicks in within one to two hours.

Last Resort

At 36, when she quit her job last year, Sibulski said she feared she would be permanently disabled and never be able to return to work. She had seen multiple specialists and tried a medicine cabinet full of prescribed drugs, including OxyContin and muscle relaxers, to relieve her pain and abdominal spasms, but nothing worked.

Once she was unemployed, Sibulski said she experimented on her own with street-purchased marijuana and found that it worked better than anything else she had tried. But she couldn’t control the potency of what she was smoking, so sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t, and sometimes it made her too high to function.

Still, she felt well enough to return to work and started applying for jobs. That’s when she realized she couldn’t pass a drug test, which she said most employers she spoke to required.

In December, Sibulski found Shapiro through a Yelp listing and brought him her medical files so he could consider certifying her to use pharmaceutical-grade marijuana. Working with him and a pharmacist at a dispensary in Queens, she said she found the perfect combination of THC and CBD to keep her symptoms at bay while allowing her to be highly functional.

“It’s been life-changing,” she said. As a certified marijuana patient, she’s hoping potential employers will waive that part of the drug test.

Dr. Stephen Dahmer, a primary care doctor and chief medical officer of Vireo Health of New York, one of five state-approved medical marijuana producers, said Sibulski’s story is typical.

“Many marijuana patients are what we call the ‘intractables.’ They try everything the medical system has to offer, and they finally find relief from medical cannabis,” he said.

Dahmer says he agrees with the state’s cautious approach. “We physicians take an oath to ‘do no harm.’ ” But unfortunately, he said, it means a lot of patients who could benefit from marijuana aren’t getting access to it. “It’s my hope that the door will open wider in the future and medical marijuana will become a first-line treatment.”

UT/TT Poll: Support for marijuana growing like a weed in Texas

Texans are more open to legalizing marijuana — and not just for medical use — according to the new University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Opposition to legal marijuana is dropping in Texas, with fewer than one in five respondents to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll saying they are against legalization in any form.

Support for marijuana only for medical use has dropped over the last two years, but support for legalization for private use — both in small amounts or in amounts of any size — has grown since the pollsters asked in February 2015.

“We’ve seen this movie before on a couple of social issues,” said Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. He thinks the changes in Texas have more to do with shifting attitudes than with news of legalization in other states. “There’s a little bit of normalization. I don’t think this is a states-as-laboratories issue. Voters don’t care about that kind of stuff.”

Overall, 83 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana for some use; 53 percent would go beyond legal medical marijuana to allow possession for any use, the poll found. Two years ago, 24 percent of Texans said no amount of marijuana should be legal for any use and another 34 percent said it should be allowed only for medical use.

Legal pot is more popular with Democrats than Republicans, with men than with women, and with younger Texans more than older ones. All of those subgroups support legalization of marijuana for medical or nonmedical use. Among Democrats, 62 percent would legalize pot in some amount for nonmedical use, while only 41 percent of Republicans agreed. Sixty percent of men would support legalization of non-medical marijuana, compared with 48 percent of women. Among 18-44 year olds, 55 percent would approve of non-medical marijuana and 51 percent of 45 to 64-year-olds agreed. But only 38 percent of Texans 65 and older agreed.

“The number of people who want to keep marijuana completely illegal decreased by seven points,” said poll co-director Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “The commensurate shift is in Republicans saying small amounts should be legal, and those who said any amount should be legal increased by six points.

“The other thing that may be going on here is the possible disappearance of the medium ground,” he said. “It reminds me of what happened with gay marriage, where people often chose the civil union option. A similar thing is happening with medical marijuana as a kind of way station.”

Veterans ask Texas Legislature to pass medical marijuana bill

Doctor claims medical marijuana can cure PTSD

SAN ANTONIOFor the past couple of years, veterans have been heading to the Texas Capitol and testifying how medical marijuana helps their ailments.

“We use cannabis for medical reasons, and we believe as veterans we’ve earned the right to use a medication that is safe and effective,” Dave Bass said. 

A retired Army veteran, Bass is now veterans outreach director for the Texas Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a medical marijuana advocating group. Since 2013, Bass has gone to the Legislature to try to get bills passed to allow veterans to get access to medical cannabis.


Bass said he used to suffer from PTSD, chronic pain, and was an alcoholic. After he started using medicinal marijuana, he eventually stopped using all medications and stopped drinking 

“For us, rather than being a gateway drug, cannabis is an exit drug from dependents and addiction to pharmaceutical medications, and an exit drug from alcohol abuse,” Bass said.

Retired neuropsychologist Dr. Lang Coleman has studied the used of cannabis in veterans and said it shows positive results.

“It reduces pain, it helps you sleep, it reduces the symptoms of PTSD in a really neat way that a psychologist can use to actually cure PTSD,” Coleman said.

Find out more about a dispensary opening in Wilson County this year

Veteran Shane Faulkner has a similar story to Bass, saying he takes up to nine medications a day for his PTSD and other ailments he suffered while in the military.


After getting arrested twice for possessing marijuana, Faulkner said he decided to move to Colorado so he would not face any further legal trouble.

 “If I’m not on cannabis during the day, I have the tendency to be really edgy, very hyper vigilant, and paranoid, I also don’t get much sleep or eat,” Faulkner said. “So I use it for every single one of those things.”

Bass is now encouraging veterans like Faulkner to join the Operation Trap Movement, which is asking veterans to write a letter to Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick asking for a day to discuss medical marijuana. 

Another part of the operation is sending in a pill bottle to Texas NORML with your information inside. A toy soldier will then be placed inside and all pill bottles will be on display at the capitol. 

“The artwork is a soldier trapped in a pill bottle cause that’s exactly how we feel,” Bass said.

For more information about Operation Trap, click here. 

Texas Has a Medical Cannabis ‘Prescription’ Problem

Marijuana Decriminalization Effort Growing in the House, But Democrats Need GOP Help

Now a committee chairman, Democrat Joe Moody is leading the charge, but is his plan for pot policy reform just a pipe dream?

by Sam DeGrave | Tue, Feb 21, 2017

Originally published by the Texas Observer

For the past few years, efforts to decriminalize marijuana have smoldered in the Capitol only to burn out at the end of each session. Conditions might be ripe for them to catch fire in the House this year, even though they’ll likely be snuffed out in the Senate.

“The conversation is getting louder on this side of the building,” state Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso, told the Observer. “This is an issue that has bipartisan support among the people we represent. Unfortunately, it’s the lawmakers who are last across the finish line on this.”

Sam DeGrave
State Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso (right)

Moody, the new chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, wants to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a fine-only offense. Under Moody’s House Bill 81, anyone busted with an ounce of marijuana or less would be subject to a civil citation — similar to a parking ticket — and a fine of up to $250. No arrest, no jail time, no criminal record.

Under current law, a conviction for possession of 2 ounces of marijuana or less — a Class B misdemeanor — can land you in jail for up to six months and a carry a fine up to $2,000. In 2015, more than 61,000 people were arrested in Texas for possession of marijuana, according to Department of Public Safety data.

Getting caught with a joint is the first step down the long road to “life-altering poverty,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney at a pro-decriminalization press conference last week.

“That conviction stamps them with a tattoo right on their forehead for the rest of their life, and it begins when they get that letter … saying their license has been suspended,” he said. In Texas, drug convictions result in a driver’s license suspension of six months.

Last session, two pot-related proposals — a nearly identical decriminalization bill from Moody, HB 507, and a full legalization measure from former Longview Republican Representative David Simpson — made it further in the legislative process than ever before. The two bills were voted out of committee but never considered by the full House, largely because they advanced too late in the session, Moody said.

But “a lot of things are potentially different this session,” said Ellic Sahualla, Moody’s chief of staff.

Sam DeGrave
About 350 marijuana policy reform advocates gather at the Capitol.

As chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, Moody has control over when bills are heard. Though he wouldn’t give an exact date for a hearing on HB 81, Moody said he’s not going to waste any time moving it through the process.

“This committee is much bigger than just my bill,” he told the Observer. “But this is a discussion that needs to happen in Texas, and I plan on having that discussion.”

It’s going to take more than a healthy head-start for Moody’s bill to have a chance at becoming law. It won’t clear his own committee, which comprises three Democrats and four Republicans, unless he can persuade at least one GOP member to approve the measure. The other two Democrats — Terry Canales of Edinburg and Barbara Gervin-Hawkins of San Antonio — have signed onto HB 81 as co-authors.

“This doesn’t go anywhere without bipartisan support,” Moody said.

All four of the committee’s Republican members refused to take a stance on Moody’s bill and marijuana decriminalization generally when pressed by theObserver last week.

During his campaign last year, Representative Mike Lang, a Granbury Republican and newcomer to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, told the Mineral Wells Index that he was “opposed to any form of marijuana legalization.”

“As a law enforcement officer, I have seen firsthand how drugs can ruin lives,” he told the newspaper. “As a state, we must not do anything to encourage recreational drug use.”

But when it comes to HB 81, the nearly 30-year veteran of law enforcement told theObserver that “it’s still a little early” to say how he might vote.

Republicans Cole Hefner and Terry Wilson haven’t made public their stances on marijuana policy reform in the past.

But Representative Todd Hunter, a Corpus Christi Republican, could be an important ally for Moody this session. Hunter, a top lieutenant of House Speaker Joe Straus and vice-chair of the committee, registered a preliminary vote in support of the similar measure last session, but he was absent the day the bill won committee approval. In addition, he chairs the powerful House Calendars Committee, which controls the flow of legislation to the House chamber.

“I don’t have a set position, but I do this every session. I wait for the bills to develop, and as we get closer, I start to make my decision,” Hunter said in an interview with the Observer.

The way Hunter sees it, marijuana decriminalization isn’t “one aisle versus the other.” He said both liberal and conservative constituents have approached him, speaking in support of decriminalization.

That wouldn’t come as a shock to Texas pollsters. In September 2015, the Texas Lyceum reported that the majority of Texans support reducing the penalties for marijuana possession. Of those polled, 60 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of Republicans favored decriminalization. A similar poll by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune found that 79 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans support making marijuana offenses a civil penalty rather than a criminal charge.

Sam DeGrave
A pot policy reform advocate prepares to meet his representative at the Capitol.

When it comes to drug policy reform, the Texas Legislature lags significantly behind much of the nation. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and local officials in some part of Texas are starting to take the cue.

Starting March 1, law enforcement officers in Houston and Harris County won’t arrest people possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana so long as they agree to take a drug education course, the Houston Chronicle reported. New Harris County DA Kim Ogg announced the policy late last week alongside Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, the police chief and the county sheriff.

State Senator José Rodríguez, a Democrat representing El Paso, is carrying an identical measure to Moody’s on the other side of the Capitol. Both lawmakers can identify with Ogg. Before they were state legislators, they worked as attorneys for El Paso County, Moody as a prosecutor and Rodríguez as county attorney. It was there, they said, that they became familiar with the problems that come with marijuana convictions.

Rodríguez doesn’t think the odds of his bill clearing the Senate Criminal Justice Committee are good, given that Republicans outnumber Democrats on the committee six to three.

Last session, Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis carried the Senate companion to Moody’s decriminalization measure. It never got a hearing in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which had three Democrats and only four Republicans at the time.

“I’m realistic about this. The leadership is not supportive,” Rodríguez told theObserver, noting that Governor Greg Abbott has said he won’t sign any bill legalizing recreational marijuana. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment regarding decriminalization.

Abbott isn’t alone in his reticence. Texas Republicans often struggle with the issue of marijuana policy reform because it puts their liberty-loving, limited-government nature at odds with socially conservative voters. Some Democrats even have a hard time with the issue.

That’s why Rodríguez has also proposed a constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 17, that would legalize the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana. He knows it doesn’t have a chance of passing, but he sees his proposed amendment and all other bill loosening marijuana laws as “vehicles for having an important debate.”

Forcing opponents of marijuana policy reform into open discussion is the first step in relaxing drug laws, according to Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

“It is really hard to defend the status quo and defend current policies when you sit down and talk about it,” she told the Observer. “The way reform has been stalled so long is that politicians have refused to have the conversation.”

El Paso Rep. Joe Moody pushing relaxed marijuana laws

John C. Moritz, USA Today Network Austin Bureau
Published 4:22 p.m. CT | Feb. 20, 2017
Originally published by the Caller Times.

Being caught with a small amount of marijuana would be punishable only by a civil under legislation being carried by a key committee chairman.

AUSTIN – Being caught with a small amount of marijuana would be punishable only by a civil fine and would not involve the criminal justice system under legislation being carried by the newly minted chairman of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

“Marijuana possession, even in small amounts, would still be illegal in Texas and it would still be confiscated and destroyed,” said state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso. “But the difference is, merely being in possession is not going to put you in jail.”

Moody’s legislation, House Bill 81, classifies “a small amount” as an ounce or less of marijuana. Someone with that amount would be subject to a fine of up to $250. But no arrest would be made and no criminal record would follow, Moody said.

Last week, he was joined at the Texas Capitol by advocates for relaxing criminal laws for marijuana procession as well as a retired state district judge and representatives from the law enforcement community.

“Every year we arrest about 60,000 people in Texas for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana,” said retired judge John Delaney, who has long supported marijuana decriminalization efforts. “Each arrest takes about two hours of police time, not to mention the added burden on jails and courts.”

The legislation is similar to several measures that seek to scale back the punishment for the possession of marijuana for personal use. Last fall, the cities of Nashville and Memphis approved ordinances to allow police to issue civil citations for small amounts of marijuana.

Those cities, however, are facing push back by the Tennessee Legislature. According to the Tennessean, a USA Today Network newspaper in Nashville, the chairman of the state House Criminal Justice Committee has filed a bill that would not only nullify the local ordinance, it would prohibit other municipalities in the state from passing similar measures.

In Virginia, Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam announced last week that among his legislative initiatives this year is decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Northam is the Democratic frontrunner in this year’s race for Virginia governor.

“We need to change sentencing laws that disproportionately hurt people of color,” Northam, a physician, said in a Feb. 13 blog post. “One of the best ways to do this is to decriminalize marijuana. African Americans are 2.8 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Virginia. The Commonwealth spends more than $67 million on marijuana enforcement — money that could be better spent on rehabilitation.”

In 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said he opposed efforts that would scale back penalties for marijuana possession. And the legislation Moody filed that was similar to his present bill never got to the House floor for a vote.

Moody this month was named chairman of the Jurisprudence Committee, which hears legislation related to crimes and punishment. He said he intends to schedule his bill for a hearing, although he has not set a date. He also has at least one Republican co-author, state Rep. Jason Isaac of Dripping Springs, and more than three dozen Democrats as co-sponsors.

He said Texas spends more than $700 million each year dealing with low-level possession of marijuana cases.

“On top of that, the current punishment doesn’t fit the crime,” he said in an op-ed published last week by the El Paso Times. “Arrestees – mostly young people — are being saddled with permanent criminal records that can make them almost unemployable later.”

Law Enforcement Officials Express Support for Proposal to Reduce Marijuana Penalties in Texas

Active duty and former Texas police officers, a retired Texas District Court judge, and others gathered Thursday to express support for HB 81, which would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of a small amount of marijuana

AUSTIN, Tx. — Members of the law enforcement community are speaking out in favor of a proposal to reduce the penalties for simple marijuana possession in Texas. On Thursday, active duty and former Texas police officers, a retired Texas District Court judge, and others joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for a news conference at the Texas Capitol to express support for HB 81.

“Arresting people for marijuana possession takes officers off the streets for hours, reducing their effectiveness,” said former Carrollton police officer Silvestre Tanenbaum. “In this time of shrinking law enforcement budgets and staffing reductions, officers need to be able to maximize their impact in our communities. Issuing citations for low-level marijuana possession can drastically reduce the manpower expense and court costs that go into prosecuting what is essentially a victimless offense. It would also enable law enforcement to build better relationships with the community it serves.”

HB 81, introduced by Moody and co-authored by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), 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.

“Texans want police on the streets protecting and serving, offenders punished sternly but fairly, and taxpayer money spent efficiently and effectively,” Moody said. “House Bill 81 does that by making personal-use possession of marijuana a civil violation instead of a crime. That frees up law enforcement resources and deals with marijuana possession firmly without branding a college kid caught with a joint as a criminal who will then have real problems getting financial aid to finish school and finding a place to live and work afterwards.”

More than two-thirds of Texans (68%) would 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% said they would be opposed.

“Every year we arrest about 60,000 people in Texas for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. “Each arrest takes about two hours of police time, not to mention the added burden on jails and courts. This diverts resources that could be spent helping victims of violence and serious property crimes. Issuing citations makes more sense. What’s more, a marijuana conviction affects a person’s ability to work and support a family for the rest of their life. No one wins; all of us lose.”

Read more:The Gilmer Mirror – Law Enforcement Officials Express Support for Proposal to Reduce Marijuana Penalties in Texas

Large number of Republicans support marijuana legalization

JAN 27, 2017

A surprising number of Republicans support legalization of marijuana.

Quartz reports showed that 60 percent of Americans support legalization of marijuana, including 42 percent of Republicans, some of whom live in conservative states or even serve in their state’s legislature.

Texas is among five states with current marijuana reform bills that have been introduced for consideration in upcoming sessions.

“And, it is worth noting that Republicans, who control state legislatures in most of those states, are behind the push,” writes Maureen Meehan wrote in the Jan. 16 issue of High Times.

And according to a 2015 Pew Research survey, 63 percent of Republican millennials believe marijuana should be legalized, but according to Quartz, even older conservatives are getting onboard.

One such proponent, Ann Lee, a long-time Republican, used to believe cannabis was a dangerous gateway drug until her son became a paraplegic at the age of 28. After reading about cannabis’ therapeutic effects for nerve pain, she became convinced it should be legalized and she believes that prohibition contradicts the Republican principles of small government, fiscal responsibility and personal liberty.

Now she works with other like-minded Republicans, like Jason Vaughn, a religious Texas cannabis activist and author of an April 2015 essay entitled, “A Pro-Life Defense of Marijuana Legalization,”in which he argues that legalizing marijuana is linked to his pro-life stance in that criminalization of the drug leads to more crime and death.

Another Texan, Republican representative David Simpson wrote in an op-ed entitled, “The Christian case for drug law reform” that God made marijuana so he didn’t see it as a mistake that government needs to fix.

He introduced a reform bill to legalize weed in The Lone Star State in 2015 that was defeated by his fellow lawmakers.

UPDATE EXTRA: Local woman gains steam on medical marijuana front

By STEPHANY GARZA [email protected]

LAKE JACKSON — Medicinal cannabis advocate Cherie Rineker believes she is gaining momentum in the second-biggest battle of her life — convincing legislators to legalize the plant-based treatment for cancer patients like herself.

Rineker is awaiting responses from state senators Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, hoping her testimony as a cancer patient will open doors after meeting last month with state Rep. Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton.

Current law allows only those with intractable epilepsy to legally use cannaboid oil. The program is monitored, enforced and regulated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, according to a press release from Menendez’s office.

Rineker was diagnosed with a bone-eating cancer known as multiple myeloma in 2012 and has tried many prescription drugs to counteract side effects form treatment, including nausea and loss of appetite. Both side effects could be easily remedied with medicinal-grade marijuana, she says.

Last month, Bonnen went to Rineker’s home to speak about the topic, she said.

“She expresses herself with raw honesty, grace, kindness and an open mind to the contentious nature of this issue, which has garnered my utmost respect,” Bonnen said in a statement about their meeting.

Menendez authored Senate Bill 269, which would expand who can qualify to use medicinal marijuana under the Texas Compassionate Use Program. The legislation would allow cancer patients, veterans with PTSD and people with other serious illnesses to access the drug under a doctor’s consultation.

“I have no prediction as to whether any particular bill will pass this session, but I can say with confidence that if a bill such as this one were to go into effect, it would be because of individuals like Cherie who bravely share their stories with the rest of us,” Bonnen said. “The Texas Legislature has a responsibility to take a serious look at this issue and examine the benefits it may bring to suffering Texans.”

Rineker said Bonnen told her an impediment to the bill passing is the opinion of doctors matters significantly more than that of patients. Behind closed doors, doctors and therapists support Rineker’s push to expanded use of medical marijuana, but none are eager to go public because it could risk their career, she said.

While Rineker supports medical cannabis, she doesn’t particularly favor it for herself. After a short-term stay in Colorado — a state that allows medicinal marijuana and recreational use — the side effects subsided.

“When I did cannabis in Colorado, I hated it. I don’t even know to what extent I would personally use it because I became paranoid,” she said.

Her opinion could be different if Rineker could use it in the comfort of her own home, she said.

Most recently, Rineker was prescribed a low dose of a synthetic opioid patch to help ease the pain of her bones and nerves being eaten away, she said.

“He put me on the absolute lowest dose of Fentanyl and I put it on at 4 in the afternoon. The next morning, I woke up and I had so much pain behind my eyes,” Rineker said.

Nausea set in and vomiting ensued, she said.

“I couldn’t open my eyes because my whole head hurt too much, and this is all from the legal Fentanyl patch that they do allow,” Rineker said.

Rineker created a petition seeking support for Menendez’s legislation. As of Monday afternoon, had 172 signatures. If the petition can reach 1,000 signatures, she hopes legislators will see it as strong backing for changing the law.

To sign the petition, visit

VIDEO: New pot punishment policy in Harris Co. stirs debate

Stephanie Whitfield, KHOU 6:47 PM. CST February 15, 2017
Originally published here.

HOUSTON- Changes are coming to the way people caught with marijuana are punished in Harris County.

Under the current policy, first-time offenders caught with up to two ounces of pot are able to avoid jail time through a diversion program.

During her campaign for Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg promised to expand that policy to include all misdemeanor marijuana offenders. That involves people caught with up to four ounces of the drug.

Details of the Harris County District Attorney’s new policy will be announced during a press conference Thursday morning.

However, members of the National Organization for Reformed Marijuana Laws, also called NORML, are already celebrating news of reform.

“This is fantastic news for Harris County, because its showing that prohibition is coming to an end,” said Jason Miller, Houston NORML. “What we’re seeing is misdemeanor possession cases are no longer going to involve jail time, a criminal record, or an arrest. This is great for the community, because people are no longer going to be clogging up the courts and law enforcement resources with small possession cases. These are people who haven’t done anything wrong.”

Others disagree, arguing people caught with marijuana are breaking the law.

Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez worries not enforcing the rules tells criminals they can get away with a little more in this county.

“[DA Kim Ogg] can choose to prosecute a dope dealer or not prosecute a dope dealer, but the consequences of not doing that will be borne by the tax payers, you and me,” said Sanchez. “If burglary and crime increases in Harris County by virtue of this decision, I guess that will be a political decision that comes up in a little over three years.”

One thing both sides agree on is lasting change has to happen at the state level. Several marijuana bills have been introduced in Austin this session.

“Local policies can have a tremendous impact on that, because we can show that this works,” said Miller.

They disagree about whether reform will happen in Texas anytime soon.

“A lot of what Harris County tries to do sometimes is undone by the state legislature. If the penal code is amended, which I think is the proper place to make these changes, let state lawmakers make those decisions,” said Sanchez.

Grassroots Action for Legislative Reform