Emboldened by loosening laws nationwide, proponents of legalized marijuana gathered Saturday downtown to push for reform in Texas and build support for what activists say is a fast-growing movement.
“It’s high time Texas puts prohibition out to pasture,” said Shaun McAlister, executive director of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which is hosting the conference. “Prohibition has never worked for Texas, and it’s still not working.”
More than 300 people were expected to attend the second annual conference, which ends Sunday. Topics include medical marijuana, legalization strategies, the politics behind prohibition, women in the movement and grassroots activism. Speakers include humorist/politician Kinky Friedman, patients of medical marijuana and veterans who support the cause.
Texas lags far behind on the issue of cannabis, activists say, but this is a prime time to address legalization.
Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have laws legalizing marijuana in some form. Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and others permit medical marijuana.
Activists say that prohibition is in direct opposition to the Republican belief in smaller government and that legalization would deliver millions of dollars to the state’s economy. To put pressure on political leaders, organizers held the conference just blocks away from the State Republican Convention at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
“There are a lot of young conservatives who know there’s nothing conservative about prohibition,” said Heather Fazio, political director of the Marijuana Policy Project in Austin. “This is about liberty.”
Supporters said that they want full legalization but that starting with medical marijuana is the most likely route to victory.
“We are denying people the medicine they need,” McAlister said. “They can go to the doctor and get 20 different pills for pain, but they can’t smoke a plant that has been proven to help?”
Women are the key to legalization, activists say.
“If we can get mothers and grandmothers to join us in this fight, we will get a slam-dunk victory,” said Jamie Balagia, a San Antonio-based attorney who is running for Texas attorney general. “Talk to your moms and your grandmothers. Explain to them why we are fighting.”
Current marijuana laws and enforcement are inconsistent, said Erik Altieri, spokesman for NORML in Washington, D.C., adding that he has met people serving near-life sentences for minor possession. A movement to address these problems is gaining momentum, he added.
“Since Colorado legalized marijuana,” he said, “there is a dialogue going on in this country like never before.”