(Eric Gay, AP)

Praying for Texas marijuana: Boots on the ground in pot’s biggest battlefield

He crafted a bill and got 40 co-signatories, including three Republicans, crafting it for the special peculiarities of his home state. “In Texas,” he explains, “everything against the law is a crime. There are no civil offenses. Other states had an existing construct to move marijuana possession into. We had to create one, and we had to make sure that what we created functionally works for Texas courts.”

Moody found himself in the middle of a much livelier debate than even he expected. Simpson’s bill caught him by surprise. He supported it, though he wanted to see “some sort of regulatory scheme placed on top of it. I understand why he doesn’t want to do that. He’s a limited-government Republican.”

Still, Moody says, “It’s bigger than anything that has been introduced in any other state. We do things bigger here. We’ve gone from having zero discussion to having 65 witnesses testifying until 4 in the morning. In a business where it’s slow to do anything, we’ve gone light years in the last few months. This wasn’t on the map, it didn’t exist, and the grassroots efforts should be proud of that.”

In only a few weeks, the legalization movement had established a political and media environment where anyone who’s against marijuana reform is against Christianity and sick kids and Republicans and veterans and freedom while also being for wasting $734 million of taxpayer money every year. The Sheriff’s Association continues to register opposition, but they’re not winning the debate.

“I can’t find a real argument against it,” Moody says.

Willie Nelson (Jack Plunkett, Invision/AP)
Willie Nelson (Jack Plunkett, Invision/AP)

The last week of April, Willie Nelson announced the creation of his Willie’s Reserve brand of pot from his ranch in Spicewood. Meanwhile, the legalization movement in Texas veered from despair to elation and back again. A committee heard hours of tearful testimony on several medical-marijuana bills. It was melodramatic enough to fill a year’s worth of “Days Of Our Lives” scripts. The health committee’s chairwoman heartlessly refused to allow the medical-marijuana bills out of her purview. Meanwhile, the Jurisprudence Committee rejected Moody’s bill by a vote of 3-2. Two of the bill’s supporters on the committee were absent for the vote, including one Democrat who was attending the emergency birth of his twin children.

“That was a crazy, emotional day for us,” Texas NORML’s Finkel says. “Everyone was really frustrated when it came out.” Cries of conspiracy were heard throughout the Internet. Representative Moody urged his supporters to remain calm.

Summoning change

The next Monday, the committee re-voted, and passed the bill out of committee by a vote of 4-2. Moody says the sticking points were actually very basic: First, he guaranteed that the measures wouldn’t apply to the juvenile justice system, and second, he rewrote the bill so that indigent arrestees would be allowed to do community service instead of paying a fine. He sent an email to supporters, saying:

“The bill will keep law enforcement focused on more serious issues and young people from winding up with criminal records that can haunt them for the rest of their lives. I don’t believe I’m overstating the significance of this vote to say that it was historic. No measure like this has ever been filed before in Texas, so having it reported favorably from committee was a huge step.”

The next day, history got even more historical when the committee voted out Simpson’s bill, 5-2, including two votes from Republicans. The only concession Simpson had to make, he says, was that marijuana wouldn’t be legal for teenagers to buy. “It places the ultimate control in the hands of parents where it belongs,” he says. He also says that his bill didn’t just make it through because Moody’s did. “It’s more the other way around.” Regardless, Simpson voted yes on both. Suddenly, people noticed.

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Whoa, pony. Both bills still need to be scheduled by the Calendar committee, and that has to happen by the end of the week. Then they need to get debated on the House Floor, and then they need to pass, and then they need to go to the Senate, and since Governor Greg Abbott has said he will veto any attempt to reform marijuana laws in Texas, his veto needs to be overridden, and this all has to happen by the first week of June.

So, even though it looks like Moody’s bill is going to be debated on the House floor this week, odds are long.

But recent political developments gave the 600 or so people who marched through the streets of Austin on Saturday for marijuana reform a little extra fervor. It wasn’t even close to the biggest march in Texas in the month of May. A march in Dallas on May 2 attracted more than 3,000 people. But this one in Austin was comprised of the politically astute mix that had gotten the movement so far: Former soldiers, families, Republicans and Christians, and they were seriously fired up.

“Texas has come a long way in one year,” said the founder of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana For Autism (MAMMA) on the steps of the Capitol. “Texas has come a long way in one week. As mothers and caregivers, we have been called by God. We love Texas because Texas loves freedom. We deserve to choose the medicine of our choice. God has a plan for Texas, and God willing, cannabis is in our future.”

This was followed by a moment of silence in honor of children, “medical refugees,” who have left Texas because they can’t get the marijuana they need. After that, there was a lackluster rendition of “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and more speeches from the oddest and most effective grassroots coalition Texas has seen for many a year. After a couple of hours, and many calls to call the chairman of the Calendar committee, the meeting dispersed.

(AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)
(AAron Ontiveroz, Denver Post file)

A few minutes later, in a quiet corner on the opposite side of the Capitol, in a garden full of bronze statues of frolicking children, a Methodist minister stood in a circle, holding hands with a dozen or so marchers.

They were praying, quite sincerely, for marijuana. “May our gathering today be a source of courage and hope,” the minister said. “May our coming together in a place of power be a source of needed reform. We pray that long-held convictions give way to change, that fears give way to knowledge and wisdom. May we be blessed in our journey together. Amen.”

Afterward, at a nearby restaurant, prayers were off the table. Instead, people were smoking pot openly, if not legally, as well as drinking beer and eating huge platters of greasy nachos and fries. A guy passed me a little plastic tube labeled “Potties.” It contained a couple of homegrown joints. “Enjoy the vortex,” he said. Someone in a porkpie hat shouted, “Herb’s the word, my friends!” into a megaphone, while encouraging people to write their Representatives.

Organizers put out a vinyl sheet and provided Sharpies for everyone to sign, as a memorial for this day on the path to freedom. Most people just signed their names, but a few drew marijuana leaves, and some had personalized messages.

As I enjoyed the vortex, I walked up and down the line. One message resonated in particular. It read:

“I believe in the good things comin’.”