Texas Lawmakers Consider Reforming Marijuana Laws

Several bills pre-filed in 2017 legislature

Several bills filed by Texas lawmakers would decriminalize marijuana in the state, or at least allow it for medical reasons.

The 2017 session begins Tuesday.

"I believe Texas is at a tipping point where we're seeing the rest of the country having a sensible marijuana policy,” said Shaun McAlister of Arlington, the leader of DFW NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Eight states have now legalized marijuana possession. Some 28 allow it to be used for medicinal purposes. 

But critics, like recently retired Texas Department of Public Safety narcotics agent Corky Schalchlin of Frisco, don’t see any changes coming.

"I just don't think it has the legs in Texas to stand,” Schalchlin said. “We go through this every couple years with the legislature."

This year, Texas lawmakers have pre-filed several bills.

One would allow voters to decide on legalizing medical marijuana.

Lawmakers two years ago legalized small amounts of cannabis oil -- but only for people with severe forms of epilepsy.

Another bill would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana altogether, changing it from a misdemeanor to a civil penalty, like a traffic ticket.

"I believe after this session we will stop putting people in cages for possessing small amounts of this,” McAlister said. “I also believe doctors will be able to recommend -- not prescribe but recommend -- marijuana as a medicine to patients."

Schalchlin said there's no solid evidence that marijuana is really a medicine, adding that decriminalizing it would also be a mistake.

"Are you going to have a doctor show up to surgery who has been smoking or a nurse? A fireman?” he asked. “If you legalize it, are you going to have police officers out there carrying a gun that have been smoking? It's scary. I think it's a slippery slope."

Some experts say socially conservative Texas isn't quite ready to jump on the national trend just yet.

"I wouldn't hold your breath on it passing this year,” said Bob Garrett, an Austin-based reporter for The Dallas Morning News. “But momentum has slowly been building, I think, toward a legalization push."

Just last week in Harris County, the new district attorney announced she would no longer jail people who are caught with small amounts of pot.

Instead, first-time offenders will be put in a diversion program that includes fines, community service and drug education classes.

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