Texas lawmakers rightly challenge restrictions on marijuana use

Noah M. Horwitz

Last week, the State House's Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 5-2 to fully legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Yeah, you read that right. In doing so, they became the first subset of a legislative body in the United States to back the legalization of pot. Four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug, but all have done so by direct referendum and not through the legislature.

No such exercise in direct democracy exists in Texas; the legislature has a hand in all statutes and constitutional revisions, meaning they are the ones who must get involved if Texans ever want to see pot legalized. And while this particular bill, HB 2165 by state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, faces nearly impossible odds to final passage, its limited success in the legislative process should serve as a positive harbinger of the issue's near future.

Simpson, a conservative Republican from behind the Pine Curtain, is no token moderate holdover in his party. He once attempted to overthrow House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, largely seen as too moderate by the rightward periphery of the chamber, by briefly running against him. This is a man who once filed legislation to prosecute TSA Agents for engaging in pat-downs at the airport.

But on pot, for whatever reason, he takes a libertarian point of view.

"Everything that God made is good, even marijuana," Simpson said in March, when he unveiled his bill, which simply eliminates any penalties and references to marijuana in the penal code. "The conservative thought is that government doesn't need to fix something that God made good."

Simpson's reasoning might be, well, unorthodox, but his end-goal is shared by more and more Texans. A recent survey by Public Policy Polling alleged that 58 percent of Texans back the full legalization of marijuana. Simpson's bill, combined with the support of Democrats and a moderate Republican (Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi), garnered more than two-to-one approval within the panel.

The Legislature is also considering other, sometimes duplicative, proposals regarding marijuana laws. HB 507, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would decriminalize possession of marijuana. It was also recently passed by the committee in question.

Simpson and Moody's respective bills, however, stand little chance of actually becoming law. The whole house will likely not vote on the measures, nor will they come up in the senate and Gov. Greg Abbott would almost certainly veto both measures should they come across his desk.

"I don't think decriminalizing marijuana is going to happen this session," Abbott said to reporters last month. "I will see Texas continuing to lead the way of diverting away from activity that involves drug use and helping people lead more productive lives."

Still, some progress could likely be made. SB 339, by state Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, would provide for some forms of medical marijuana. It has already passed the senate by huge bipartisan margins and is well on its way to passing the house. It's unclear if Abbott will veto it.

If and when Texas does end its asinine modern-day prohibition, it will be because of a bipartisan coalition of strange bedfellows. Democrats, moderate Republicans and ultra-conservative Tea Party representatives with certain libertarian tendencies will have to come together to do what is right. It's in the state's best interest to stop prosecuting people for smoking a plant with no proven harmful effects, wasting millions upon millions of dollars in the process. Thankfully, we now have Simpson, an unlikely champion, leading the cause.

Horwitz is a government senior from Houston. Follow Horwitz on Twitter @NmHorwitz.