Cannabis Reform In Texas: An Educational Disconnect?

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Is there a disconnection between the education and knowledge of cannabis-related issues by politicians, versus that of their constituents? After speaking with many individuals, both representatives and constituents, I found that not only is there a lack of basic knowledge, but the educational gap that exists between the two is a black hole, where most information is lost or diluted to the point of dissolution.

Many constituents actually want to engage in a dialog with their representatives, but most are afraid to call them, email them, or– heaven forbid — ever meet with one, out of fear they will be getting a visit from the local authorities. That is hard for many to grasp, but it is true.


Photo: Lars Plougmann

If one makes that leap of faith, setting an appointment to meet with their representative, the constituent’s objective is to submit and translate what is deemed to be relative information.  During this verbal intercourse, the representative is trying to make a rebuttal and draw the constituent into debate, with both sides muddling the issues in the process.

The constituent wants to present the hard facts, along with anecdotal anecdotes; the representative wants to present (mostly) rhetoric and inject their own personal morality into the conversation, leaving both sides frustrated with the encounter.  As a result, the constituent, often jaded by previous poor representation, begins to lose confidence in the political process, vowing never to vote again.  The representative will remain in their elected position, comfortable with their ignorance on the issue which they are to legislate, and continue as if they have made a difference in their constituents’ lives.

The solution to any problem is certainly not to ignore it in hopes that it will go away, as the representative has successfully achieved, but to challenge the adversity head on, as would anyone that unveils a wrong and works to correct the problem. During a recent discussion with one of my representative’s legislative aides, he asked me what the current law was concerning cannabis possession! Needless to say, I departed the Capitol building just a little bit in wonder…and dismay.

The solution to this problem dwells within the right of the people to vote ignorance out of office. Take a stand as a constituent, and politely request of your representatives that they do their jobs, and serve the will of the people. A true representative of the people will not consider their own morality, but the conscience of the populace.

Recently, I had a discussion with a gentleman who is concerned about cannabis issues. He voted a straight party ticket (not that the party should matter) in the last election, for two reasons: 1.) he couldn’t figure out how to work the voting machine, and 2.) he didn’t like Obama.  I didn’t find it difficult to believe that an individual is unaware of the candidates or representatives running in an election, and their positions on the issues, as this is problematic within the general voting population.

Let me start by addressing the second problem: it wasn’t a presidential election, and Obama can’t run for a third term. The first problem is solvable in many ways. First, if one doesn’t know how to work the voting machine, ask for help, or fill out a paper ballot. Second, if one votes a straight party ticket, they’re not going to be as happy with the outcome when they find out they voted for a candidate they didn’t actually want to vote for, a candidate who does not reflect the voter’s viewpoint on that particular issue. The tried and true approach to this dilemma is simple:

1.) Register to vote.
2.) Know the candidates and the issues.
3.) Vote, early if possible.
4). Stay in contact with your representatives once they’re in office.

Don’t forget to let them know how you feel about the issues of concern to you; it’s your right under the 1st Amendment. I find it hard to understand how one could not have knowledge of the 1st Amendment, but the creation of dialog with one’s representatives is a learning experience.

The aforementioned gentleman asked me to join him and meet with his representatives, to discuss the medical cannabis issue.  However, during the meeting he could only ask, “If it was your child that needed treatment, what would you do?” When the representatives expressed concerns over sensationalized, isolated incidents in Colorado, he could not offer a rebuttal. Most representatives don’t even understand what medical cannabis actually is, and what it isn’t.

The answer to that question can be found in many publications and is usually defined as: medical cannabis; medical marijuana; referring to the use of cannabis and its constituent cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD); and, as medical therapy to treat disease or alleviate symptoms. Notice the word “cures” isn’t mentioned, and those who state that cannabis “cures” are usually using antidotes, and not accurately recorded research.

Many legislative officials already believe they “get it”; they know all they need to know, they’ve become experts on cannabis. But when discussing the issue, I have found that many have never even seen cannabis, except during their high school or college years, or in pictures via the media. After hearing from a constituent, a typical political response may be, “I don’t want to see the same problems as Colorado, or California!”, as if those are the only two states that they are aware of that have a medical or recreational cannabis program.  I refer to this exclamation as the “Nancy Grace knee jerk morality response.”  I’ve wondered: how can someone denounce or introduce legislation without any basic knowledge of the subject matter concerning the legislation?


CLICK TO ENLARGE to see how a bill becomes a law in Texas
Courtesy: Guide to Texas Legislative Information (GTLI)

So whose definition are we using? Would it not be prudent, if not necessary, to help educate said representatives? Sure, but one can lead a horse to water as well. During the 2013 legislative session, all 51 Senators and 130 representatives received a legislative packet, along with Paul Armentano’s book, “NORML Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids.” I wonder how many of those books have had their spines cracked.  However we define it, representatives and constituents must come together to create effective medical cannabis reform.  The power of these questions to trigger strong, emotionally polarized reactions demonstrates that even in our high-tech world of instant access to information, our spirits hunger for answers to questions that are at our fingertips. To me, the most important challenge has always been not whether we can address cannabis reform, but how?

My home state of Texas has a constitution that is 10 times larger than the U.S. Constitution, with over 600 amendments, and the legislative process is laborious, especially when sessions are every other year ending in odd numbers, and lasting only 140 days. In 2013 a medical defense bill was introduced, and has been at each session since 2001; it has been sent to committee twice, and made it to a hearing…on the last day that the calendar committee was required to send the bill to the floor.  After a 6-hour wait, the hearing finally began at about 9 P.M., and with 36 witnesses in favor of the bill, the committee refused to make a decision and take a vote.

Should one have to kowtow to a representative just to have their message heard? Like many others, I am truly tired of being at the suffrage of my representatives. Most people (and I can’t blame them) are finding it very difficult to understand the political process; i.e., how a bill becomes a law. This re-occurring problem exists in numerous states, not just Texas.  Across America, the citizens and representatives have grown weary of how to address drug reform, with many lacking the education needed to progress beyond the status quo.

Feature Photo: Image courtesy of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission/Public Domain