Gov. Rick Perry's comments last month, during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum, about a state's right to legalize marijuana and his alleged longstanding support for a move toward pot decriminalization, touched off a flurry of pot-talk in Texas. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis was asked about pot during a meeting with the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News (she's down with medical marijuana, she said; her jury's still out on legalization), and during a televised debate among the four GOP candidates for lite guv, current state Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson said he would support medical marijuana ("If there is medical efficacy ... and the doctor prescribes it, I see nothing wrong with that," he said). Less surprising, author/musician/huckster Kinky Friedman has based his entire run as Democratic candidate for agriculture commissioner on a platform of legalizing marijuana and hemp production in Texas.
Each position has been variably critiqued, mostly in the mainstream media, with the consensus being that some modest form of decriminalization may be possible in the not-too-distant-future – but that legalizing medical marijuana, let alone recreational pot use, remains for now a long-shot pipe dream.
Notably, however, there's at least one powerful activist group which disagrees and is organizing a full-court press to change Texas pot laws: the Marijuana Policy Project, which has been the driving force behind successful bids to legalize medi-pot in 18 states, as well as the 2012 Colorado vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults. For the first time, MPP's co-founder and Executive Director Rob Kampia told the Chronicle, the group is ready to focus effort and attention on changing Texas law – and Kampia says he believes that's doable within the next five years. "We feel like legalizing marijuana in Texas – though people in Texas feel like it's impossible – I think it's possible in five years," Kampia said. And he added that MPP is "about to spend real money on decriminalization and legalization" efforts in the state to make it so.
MPP rolls out its efforts March 1, with the hiring of lobbyist Randal Kuykendall (of Congress Avenue Consulting, and a veteran lobbyist for the Texas Municipal Police Association, among other law-enforcement and related entities) and a commitment to spend $200,000 a year to push for change. The group will work with criminal justice reformers and organizations from across the state, Kampia said, and in 2015 intends to have introduced "three perfect bills" – one each addressing decriminalization, medical marijuana, and legalization – "and we'll see how far each of the three bills go," he said. "Maybe all three don't pass in the first session, but I know there is a lot of energy behind these bills."
There also seems to be a considerable base of support, among both Republicans and Democrats, according to a poll MPP commissioned of Texas voters in late September 2013. That poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, reveals broad support among men and women of both parties for legalization of medical marijuana and for pot decriminalization – 67% of Democrats support legal medi-pot as do 50% of Republicans, while 66% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans support decriminalization of possession of up to one ounce of pot. As for legalization, 70% of Democrats "strongly" or "somewhat" support a measure like that which passed in Colorado, while 48% of Republicans said the same. Those are numbers MPP can work with, Kampia said.
Indeed, over the 15 years that Kampia has been working on marijuana decriminalization and legalization efforts, he said he's heard one thing over and over: "People in the state in question believe change is not possible in their state, but is possible in other states," he said. And what Kampia knows from experience is that all things are possible – given the right amount of time and pressure, even Texas can transform into a progressive drug law-reform diamond. "We're in – and we're in for the long haul," he said. "We're ready to go."
Copyright © 2015 Austin Chronicle Corporation. All rights reserved.