DFW NORML, 2013

Texas has some of the country’s strictest laws against marijuana — and they date back nearly 100 years. But new polls show growing support across the state to legalize marijuana use. This weekend, drug reform advocates are gathering in Dallas for the first major drug policy conference of 2014, hosted by Mothers Against Teen Violence.

Shaun McAlister, 29, leads DFW NORML – the north Texas chapter of the national organization for the reform of Marijuana laws. In 2013, he helped organize a pro-legalization event in downtown Fort Worth.

DFW NORML

Shaun McAlister, center, leads DFW NORML, the North Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Last year, he helped organize a pro-legalization event in downtown Fort Worth.

Shaun McAlister says he’s always been a “fan of the herb,” but he’s not about to give up the legalization fight and move to Colorado or Washington, states that allow recreational marijuana sales.

“Like hell I’m abandoning Texas,” says McAlister, 29, a Fort Worth native. “I don’t want to move away to be more free. That’s silly to me.”

McAlister runs DFW NORML, the North Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He talked an Arlington pub he says is “friendly to the cause.”

It’s filled with people smoking … cigarettes.

That’s because in Texas, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can land you in jail for up to six months and set you back $2,000.

“It’s time for a change,” McAlister says. “We never had a realistic basis for prohibiting the substance to begin with.”

The KERA Radio Story.

It all goes back to El Paso

To understand why marijuana is illegal in Texas, we have to go back 100 years, to the border city of El Paso.

At the time, you could buy cannabis over the counter, and even order it by mail. But there was a growing fear in both Mexico and the United States that the drug turned people violent. That fear seemed to became reality in Mexico on New Year’s Day 1913.

Border Heritage Center, El Paso Public Library

Stanley Good, center, spearheaded efforts to have El Paso pass an ordinance against marijuana in 1915.

“Supposedly this guy who was smoking marijuana all day goes on this rampage through the streets of Juarez,” Isaac Campos says. “He supposedly runs down the street with a knife, chases American tourists, stabbed some horses, killed a policeman.”

Campos, associate professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, and author of “Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs,” says reports of the Juarez rampage reached the deputy sheriff in El Paso, a man named Stanley Good.

“[Good] gets obsessed with the issue and goes on this campaign to get an ordinance in El Paso banning it,” Campos said.

He says prejudice against marijuana was especially intense in Texas because the drug was associated with Mexicans – despite the fact that most Mexicans feared the drug.

“It’s not that Mexicans come across the border smoking a lot of marijuana, and then people gain prejudice against marijuana,” Campos says. It’s that “Mexican immigrants come across and people are prejudiced against the immigrants and that further fuels their anti-marijuana prejudice.”

Drug reform advocates say the fears that led to the first law banning marijuana in Texas nearly 100 years ago are still behind drug policy today.

“La Marihuana” by Trio Garnica-Ascenio

A neuroscientist challenges today’s laws

Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and associate professor of psychology at Columbia University, says the country’s regulation of marijuana is not based on pharmacology or science, but instead on “social and cultural factors.”

Dr. Carl Hart is an associate professor of psychology in both the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University. He's author of "High Price: A Neuroscientist's Journey of Self-Discovery."

Courtesy of Dr. Hart

Dr. Carl Hart is an associate professor of psychology in both the departments of psychiatry and psychology at Columbia University. He’s author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery.”

Hart, the author of “High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery,” will be giving the keynote speech at the drug policy conference in Dallas this weekend. He aims to debunk the myth that Marijuana is a gateway drug.

“That is not true,” Hart says. “What is true is that people who smoke cocaine or who use heroin, the majority of those people have indeed used marijuana. But the vast majority of people who use marijuana never go on to use anything else. And they don’t become addicted.”

So, Hart argues, it’s time to focus on educating people about marijuana and decriminalizing its use. That, Hart says, will save thousands of people from having a criminal record. Right now in Texas, more than 24,000 non-violent drug offenders are incarcerated, and many more are on probation.

What do Texans want?

A 2013 poll in Texas conducted by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of support for both medical and recreational use of marijuana — as well as a desire to change the state’s laws to lower penalties for recreational possession.

According to the poll, 58 percent of Texans “support making marijuana legal for adults and regulating it like alcohol,” and 61 percent were in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession of an ounce or less to a civil, not criminal offense, punishable by a fine of up to $100.

While the Texas Democratic Party endorsed marijuana decriminalization in 2012, Texas Republicans, like State Sen. John Carona, aren’t budging.

“Calls to liberalize our drug laws fall upon deaf ears,” Carona says. “It’s not something I’m willing to consider.”

First elected to the Texas Legislature in 1990, Senator John Carona is now in his sixth term in the Texas Senate, representing District 16 in Dallas County.

Office of Senator John Carona

“Marijuana legalization is not going to happen in 2015,” State Sen. John Carona says.

First elected to the Texas Legislature in 1990, Carona is now in his sixth term.

“As a conservative, as a father of five, grandfather of five, I think anything that relaxes drug policy in this state is the wrong direction,” Carona says. “In fact, I would go further. What we should have done years ago is have a real war on drugs, to strictly enforce these laws in such a way that people would respect them.”

“Those people are high”

As for those who think legalization is possible when the legislature meets in 2015, Carona says: “Pardon the pun, but those people are high.”

“Drug policy in Texas and marijuana legalization is not going to happen in 2015,” he said. “All anyone needs to do is look at the makeup of the House and the Senate, realizing how conservative we are here in Texas. That hope for change is just wishful thinking.”

This weekend, several hundred of those “wishful thinkers” will gather to talk drug policy at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas.

Bob Chessey in El Paso contributed research on drug use and smuggling along the U.S.-Mexico border.

  • http://texrat.net/ texrat

    Conservatives should be favoring legalization, if they were serious about getting government out of people’s lives.

    • RShaw

      That’s more of a Libertarian thing, and Libertarians do tend to be more pro-legalization. A lot gets lumped under the banner of “conservative.”

      • http://texrat.net/ texrat

        Many who simply call themselves Conservatives claim to want reduced government involvement in our lives, even if they don’t call themselves Libertarians as well. The useless war on drugs has meant a lot of foolish, unnecessary government involvement in our lives.

  • Brian Kelly B Bizzle

    The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is way safer, and healthier to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

  • kevin_hunt

    The word is out that there is no correlation between drug war spending and the availability of drugs.

    “After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

    Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

    “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

    Source: Fox News

  • Carol Skinner LaMotte

    With all the money to be made in taxation and the real facts that marijuana is good for you and not harmful-I am 63 and smoked for 43 years! I am as sane today as I was when I was 20! Texas lawmakers need to rethink this with Policemen’s heads getting chopped off at the borders. If it were legal, the border towns would be safer. Where do you think people get hard drugs-from the mayrjane dealers buddies. If it were controlled these leeches could not hang out at a dispensary. Thus eliminating the thugs and druggies contact with their prey!

    • Jacob

      Actually if it was legalized I believe there would be a small increase in armed robberies in order to put medical marijuana on the streets for thugs to sell so I believe legalizing it for recreational use would be good but it would also create another issue but not as large

  • Immortal Illumined

    the greatest plant in the universe is almost free, LET FREEDOM RING!!!13

    from 0 states to half the country, from low 20% approval to almost 70%, love and freedom will win, forever

    “i don’t want to move away to be free”…..sad, sad quote…..sheep say baaaaaa

    AMERICA’S WAR ON DRUGS IS A WAR ON AMERICANS!!!33

  • Immortal Illumined

    absolutely crushing prohibitionists and republiCANTS….texas is a freedom taking state, nobody denies freedoms like the south, nobody

  • Herers Angels

    Texas should keep THC illegal and start allowing hemp instead.

    • Jillian Galloway

      I agree that hemp should be allowed but what is the scientific rational to keeping THC illegal? …this policy undermines public safety rather than enhances it.

  • Jillian Galloway

    We, the taxpayers of the United States of America, should NOT be forced to fund a policy that makes us LESS safe. There is no scientific rational to allowing people to consume alcohol while denying them the right to switch to this far less-harmful alternative to alcohol. It is OUR money that’s wasted on this policy – it should be OUR right to say ENOUGH! …legalize marijuana like beer and wine!

  • avianeddy

    as an El Paso native….. SORRY :(

  • AFreedomFighter88

    I am 57 and have been using cannabis for 40 years. I’m a husband, father, electronics engineer, community volunteer and successful business owner. I vaporize cannabis (no smoke, no smell, no problems). I am in excellent health and I run 15-20 miles per week. According to the CDC web site no one has ever died from cannabis intoxication in all medical history. How long do we have to suffer the lies and ridiculous nonsense from a government whose own studies have shown cannabis all but harmless by comparison to prescription drugs, tobacco and booze. Stop the lies and Legalize!

  • AFreedomFighter88

    Legalize it!

  • Victor Villarreal

    Good thing younger people are flooding the state and the (current) gop texas voter is dying off.. He’s pretty much saying “screw what my state wants, screw science (its the devil, some what common attitude here in texas) I’m gonna do what I want and who cares if people lives are ruined (by jail). New money is gonna destroy future candidates like this state senator.

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  • Todd

    If there view is to not look at a vote. Than we need to remove them from office. Cancer victim.

  • Jennifer D Hartsfield

    Well, if our representatives don’t do what the majority of the people want, then we the people need to vote them out. Vote for someone who WILL do what we want. I don’t smoke, but I am very pro-legalization. I want the choice, I want the freedom to make that choice!!!

    • lsilverman_kera

      Approve.

  • Roxanne Clarkson

    Yes let’s all dumb ourselves down even worse than we are now! This stuff is much more potent and addictive than in years past. It is ruining young people’s lives now even though it isn’t legal. So get the drunks off the streets before we add more potheads to the mix!!

  • David

    The only one too high to see the truth is apparently Carona. A simple Google search of Texas Marijuana will show the senator that his constituents disagree as do the people he represents. I would love to see his face now. Someone please do another interview, pretty please? Have a blast in the private sector old man.