AUSTIN, Texas — At the end of a historic week for weed in Texas, state Rep. Stephanie Klick admitted Friday that she weighed the political risk of being a Republican and carrying a bill to allow a marijuana component for medicinal purposes.
Full-blown legalization in Colorado and Washington is shifting public opinion, and even in such states with conservative governors such as Wisconsin and Florida, reform advocates point to tiny victories. But in Texas, Klick considered her next election.
“That thought did occur to me,” she said. “But we owe it to these families that have a loved one with intractable epilepsy to give them some new hope.”
Marijuana is on a roll like never before in the Republican-controlled Legislature. Three bills that would decriminalize pot or legalize a marijuana oil to treat seizures cleared key votes this week — a milestone in Texas, where tough-on-crime conservatives have long considered marijuana reform a punchline instead of a possibility.
“We’ve never seen a week like in Texas before,” said Phillip Martin, deputy director of the left-leaning Progress Texas, which is pushing marijuana reforms. “This is unprecedented progress.”
Most of the gains are purely symbolic. One bill sent to the House floor makes it legal to buy and sell pot in Texas, but it has virtually no chance of going further, much less to the desk of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Less of a longshot, but still unlikely, is a bill that would punish those having small amounts of pot with a ticket instead of arrest.
That leaves Klick’s proposal as the biggest favorite, even though the measure isn’t considered medical marijuana by many advocates. It would limit legalization of Cannabidiol oil, which is extracted from the marijuana plant but doesn’t produce the high associated with other parts.
The proposal overwhelmingly cleared the Senate on Thursday, and a House vote could come as early as next week.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Gov. Rick Scott, both Republicans, signed similar bills into law last year. That gives supporters hope that Abbott could do the same with three weeks left before the Legislature adjourns.
Texas is among 22 states that prohibit all forms of recreational and medicinal marijuana use.
Marijuana’s most successful session in Texas is happening under a Legislature that pushed further rightward last fall after big upsets by conservative insurgents. The Texas Republican Party platform doesn’t endorse medical marijuana, and as recently as a few months ago, the Travis County GOP narrowly declined to signal support.
Even Klick said she wouldn’t support either of the decriminalization measures that have advanced. But she admits that even two years ago, she wouldn’t have backed the cannabis oil bill she now sponsors.
Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak said shifting public opinion and conservative momentum for criminal justice reforms have given Texas GOP lawmakers new perspective, as well as political cover.
“There was a certainly a time, and it was pretty recently, that supporting any type of this legislation would have been a political liability,” Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak said. “That day is changing.”
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: @pauljweber