In another sign of just how ambitious the marijuana reform movement has become, the nation’s largest pot lobbying group has opened an office deep in the heart of Texas.
The Marijuana Policy Project has rented office space in Austin, the state capital, and the group has set itself an ambitious goal: legalize the Lone Star State before the turn of the decade.
“People in Texas think that change is impossible,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “When I say our plan is five years, they’re sometimes surprised that it’s such a short-term plan, but I think it’s completely reasonable.”
Two states have legalized recreational weed, Colorado and Washington. Another 19 have adopted medical pot. The Marijuana Policy Project was behind the successful voter campaign in Colorado and is pushing to legalize 10 more states by 2017.
But Texas is considered a long shot, both by outsiders and those who know the state well.
For one thing, it’s famously conservative, with a staunch law-and-order streak that belies what libertarian tendencies its voters embrace. That is expected to change, as Texas becomes more and more Latino – and more and more Democratic – in coming years.
But few expect an impending change of mind on marijuana laws, especially not by the right-wing legislature. And that’s important, because Texas, unlike most other states, doesn’t allow residents to put referendums on the ballot.
“Most states actually do that by ballot initiative, but Texas doesn’t have that process,” said Austin lawyer Jamie Spencer, legal aide for NORML.
That means the decision to legalize weed is up to state lawmakers. Alternatively, they could opt to decriminalize by removing criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Possession of two ounces or less is currently punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,000.
Most Texans support legalization, according to a poll released last year, while even larger numbers support decriminalization and medical marijuana. But hopes aren’t high for immediate reform in the legislature.
That isn’t deterring the Marijuana Policy Project, which sees Texas as a hopeful goal.
“We were the organization that legalized marijuana in Colorado,” Kampia said. “We are hoping to pass certain measures through the legislature in 2015, 2017 and the ultimate victory in 2019.”
The group has already dedicated $500,000 to the effort to legalize weed in Texas. First they plan to seek medical marijuana. Eventually they’ll ask to regulate the drug like alcohol.
“It will generate tax money instead of causing taxpayers to lose money,” Kampia said. “Also, police should be able to spend their time on more important projects.”