Texas GOP Adds Hemp Cultivation to Platform, Votes Against Support for Medical Marijuana

  • by Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director June 16, 2014

    Guest Post by Jason Miller, Houston NORML

    The 2014 Texas GOP Convention wrapped up Saturday, June 7th, after a long week of debate and testimony concerning medical marijuana. Supporters of marijuana reform, including several members of RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition) along with other medical marijuana advocates, including parents, veterans, and medical doctors, gave testimony in favor of an amendment to the platform in support of allowing Texans access to medical cannabis.

    It seemed like a short-lived victory when the Temporary Platform Committee passed the amendment after listening to emotional testimony from those whose loved ones could benefit or have benefited from medical cannabis. The Chairman of the committee broke the tie and the amendment passed by a 15-14 vote. In addition, a plank supporting Hemp Cultivation passed the committee and made it into the final platform.

    The following day, the Permanent Platform Committee met and voted on the medical marijuana amendment. This was the day I arrived at the convention after driving up to Fort Worth from Houston. My second time attending the Texas GOP Convention as a delegate, I was excited to hear about what was happening in the committees and was eager to help.

    Rewind to August 2013 when I first met Ann Lee. After being involved with NORML for the past 4 years as a corporate sponsor to the legal seminars in Aspen and Key West, I had heard of Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, but I didn’t know the full extent of his story until hearing it from his mother. Ann Lee was visiting a group in Houston that several of my friends help organize called Liberty on the Rocks. Along with a representative from Houston NORML, originally co-founded by Richard Lee, Ann Lee spoke to us and her words resonated.

    She told us about growing up in Louisiana during segregation (Ann Lee is in her mid-eighties, she’s even older than marijuana prohibition itself), and she spoke of how unfairly people were treated and how unfairly minorities are treated today due to the enforcement of marijuana prohibition. She told us about her 5 sons, including educator and entrepreneur Richard Lee, who was injured in a workplace accident, leaving him in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. She told us about being a Republican activist since the 1970s and how she co-founded the group “Women for Reagan” in 1983, the year I was born. She told us about her husband, Bob Lee, and how they had initially reacted when Richard told them he uses medical marijuana to help with his muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain.

    Ann and Bob Lee founded RAMP in 2012. After much reflection, they had reached the conclusion that prohibition of marijuana is directly opposed to all of their Republican values. I was immediately intrigued upon learning about this. My interest in both party politics and marijuana policy were now being fused together by this idea. I immediately approached Ann and started asking her about RAMP. She handed me a little brochure with the Republican logo with three pot leaves instead of stars. My first thought was “OK, this organization really needs a new logo.”

    Fast-forward to 2014, new logo, website, social media, and a network of young people helping Ann Lee with RAMP. We’re ready to make an impact. We’ve formed a team, including John Baucum, President of Houston Young Republicans. We’d worked a great deal on networking and outreach, held our inaugural meeting, and conducted several interviews with news media. We knew a lot of people in Houston’s conservative scene and we knew many of them would be serving as GOP delegates.

    Upon my arrival to the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Thursday, I knew that I had a mission. The vote on the medical marijuana amendment was to take place later this day and the outcome was going to depend heavily upon how the Permanent Platform Committee was to shape up. Our strategy was to try to push anyone off the committee who voted against us and replace them with someone who is supportive.

    In my Senate District, our platform committee representative had voted against medical marijuana. So I started talking to people. I thought about who would make a good candidate and one person came to mind, a Military Veteran, an author, and a frequent lecturer on conservative issues. Although medical marijuana was not the primary issue, I knew this person would be supportive. At this point there’s a lot of whispering going on in the hallways, people pulling each other aside and talking under their breath. I knew that a good number of people would unite behind this candidate, and I was able to feel confident in my ability to “whip the votes.”

    Time was of the essence. I ran across the street to the Omni Hotel and printed up flyers, highlighting the candidate’s qualifications. After some trouble with the printer, I made it back to the convention just in time. I walked into our SD Caucus and handed everyone the flyers. There were two other candidates in the race for platform committee. Although my preferred candidate did not win, we pulled about 30% of the vote and made an impact on the outcome of the race.

    Immediately after the SD Caucus, the Permanent Platform Committee met and the moment of truth was upon us. There was a great deal of commotion outside the meeting room because it wasn’t big enough to seat everyone. People were outside the door yelling for them to relocate the meeting to a larger space. Some of the committee members had changed due the immigration plank of the platform, which was the most contentious issue up for debate. I tried to peer into the room to see who was on the committee. I was curious to find out any of our people were elected to the committee in other senate districts, but I assumed they didn’t have any better luck than I did.

    The medical cannabis amendment failed. Some of the committee members, who supported the amendment the day before ended up changing their vote. This may have been due to our opposition whipping the votes against us. However, an additional amendment supporting “research into the medical efficacy of cannabis” was introduced by a member of the committee and passed. Unfortunately, our opposition filed a ‘minority report’ signed by 9 members of the committee in support of striking this language from the platform.

    Perhaps the most amazing revelation was that another ‘minority report’ was filed, signed by 8 members of the committee, in support of adding the original medical cannabis amendment back into the platform. This was huge. A clear message was sent that support for medical cannabis is alive and well in the Texas GOP. We considered this to be a major victory because the issue would be up for debate during the general session on Saturday when the platform is adopted by the entire delegation.

    On Friday morning, we arrived at the Fort Worth Convention Center at 6:00am, with 2000 RAMP newsletters in hand. Volunteers, including founders of the group MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) Thalia Michelle and Amy Lou Falwell, helped line seats with our literature. This day, we decided to forget about the platform and the stress, it’s time to network, educate people about medical cannabis, conduct interviews with media, and talk to as many elected officials as we can.

    On Saturday morning, several of us arrived early to get spots near each of the four microphones in the general convention arena. We wanted to make sure we were able to testify in support of medical cannabis. As the platform adoption process started, medical cannabis was the first topic up for debate. Our minority report in support of adding the amendment back in to the platform was introduced from the stage.

    Ann Lee spoke in favor of this amendment and told her story. She told the delegation about her son Richard and his injury. She used her entire 5 minutes of testimony and made a very clear point that garnered a great deal of applause, “Why should the federal government be able to prevent us from using a natural medicine that is clearly beneficial to sick people?”

    One person spoke in opposition to the amendment and tried to convince the delegation that Marinol and medical marijuana are the same thing, which is clearly false.

    Dr. Teryn Driver, a delegate from League City, made an emotional argument about children suffering from epilepsy and passionately educated the delegation about Cannibidiol (CBD).

    A motion was made to end debate and the crowd voted in favor of it. (The delegation will typically always vote in favor of anything that moves the process along faster). We then voted on adding the medical marijuana amendment back into the platform and it failed. We expected this to happen.

    The next item of business is the ‘minority report’ striking the support for research into the medical efficacy of cannabis from the platform. Zoe Russell, the assistant executive director for RAMP, spoke in opposition to striking this language; she testified that Texas prides itself on medical innovation and that getting our federal government out of the way of promising research will be a tremendous benefit to our medical community. She pointed out that Republicans don’t like federal interference in our healthcare choices and that should include the ability to conduct medical research. Her remarks were met with cheers and applause.

    Immediately following Zoe’s testimony, debate was cut off. A vote was taken, but it wasn’t clear. After a bit of demagoguery by the Chairman and a clarification that a no vote would leave the language in the platform, the vote was taken again. It was very close, but the yes votes won and the language supporting research of medical cannabis was stricken from the platform.

    Our opposition’s only real strategy was to cut off testimony as quickly as possible. They don’t want the delegation to hear our message. They don’t want any discussion about changing these laws. But we’re having the discussion. We’re winning over the hearts of minds of people, and we had been doing it all week. After the convention ended, I made my way down the road about 4 blocks to the Texas Regional NORML Conference. Exhausted, I dragged myself into the conference and took a seat.

    Overall, the Texas GOP Convention was a huge success. We’re furthering the discussion about marijuana reform among Republicans and we’re having fun in the process. My time spent in Fort Worth was well worth it. I learned a lot about politics and procedure, activism and how to communicate and network with people. We met supporters from all over the state and we expanded our network. We’re now gearing up for the 2015 legislative session and we’re determined to legalize marijuana in the great state of Texas.

    It ain’t gonna legalize itself.

    Stay up to date on NORML Houston’s activities by following them on Facebook here.

    22 responses to “Texas GOP Adds Hemp Cultivation to Platform, Votes Against Support for Medical Marijuana”

    1. Phyllis D Anderson says:

      Happy things are changing on this issue. Have been a Republican since eighth grade. Have smoked pot since 10th grade. Raised a daughter without help from her dad, she is now in military intel. I have a college degree. And oddly enough I have taken the standardized IQ test three times in my life (that is another story,) but I took one in 4th grade, one in 11th grade, and one when I was forty. My scores…drum roll… 119-118-119.
      Yet I still have to live like a second class citizen, have had to work for myself most of my life due to drug testing at corporate jobs. And just fyi I have been fairly successful in my businesses. I just wish I were not stigmatized for my choice of recreation. Oh also pot helps with IBS and headaches.

    2. Julian says:

      That was the most enlightening story on current Texas marijuana policy ever!
      …but, you didnt explain how in Texas Hell in July that the hemp amendment passed? “A plank supporting hemp?” We want details!
      Its very unfortunate the GOP didnt jump on medicinal… This will cost them dearly. Did you tell them theyre just handing the vote to Wendy Davis? All she has to do is say “yes medicinal marijuana,” and get the vote.
      But to hear that the GOP supports hemp… Well that just warms my heart.
      Im proud of your work. You really set the standard for what we can achieve with a concerted effort from NORML. Ive met people from MAMMA and RAMP at the March in Austin May 3rd, and I was relieved to see some competant movement from the GOP.
      I myself am on the fence about this issue. There has been so much faux-pro marijuana legislation coming from the Texas GOP that I wonder whose platform is better.
      But after watching the purchased campaign for Democratic Agricultural Commissioner, I have to wonder if this “dark horse” Jim Hogan is any better an alternative.
      I guess its up to a pro-cannabis agricultural Commissioner for the Republicans to decide this vote.
      Fascinating. Thanks Keith.

    3. Julian says:

      (Sorry, thanks anyway Keith… I sure thought I saw your name here…). Shall I say THANK YOU Erik and Jason! Your work is so vital to our cause. If this event proves anything its that America is either green or violet more than red or blue. Keep up the good work.

    4. Ohio I am says:

      Great story from the trenches of the War on stupid…

    5. john oates says:

      What this tells me is TEXAS want`s me to go all the way blind. You see I have glaucoma bad. I have had 3 eye surgery. I`m on 4 eye drop`s. But go back to 2005 I was on 1 eye drop and used cannabis and this had been working for years. But in 2005 cops came in my house and saw my 5 plants. I gave the cops papers 1 was about Norml 2 was the life story on Robert c Randall and his law case 3 MY MEDICAL REPORTS. AND THIS IS WHAT I SAID to THE COPS… I`m willing to go to jail for life I will not accept a deal. I will get this to 12 people to here the case. I WILL GET MEDICAL CANNABIS IN TEXAS. The cops called the DA`S office. HE DID NOT WANT THE CASE. AND I DID NOT GO TO JAIL.One year later not smoking cannabis I went blind in my left eye.so don`t` tell me cannabis will not help GLAUCOMA. I have just little site left in my right eye.I`m 60 years old SO PLEASE, PLEASE TEXAS LET ME USE MEDICAL CANNABIS SO I CAN SEE A LITTLE TILL I DIE. I DON`T WANT TO LIVE BLIND. AND MY TIME IS RUNNING OUT.

    6. Douglas says:

      I still cant belive it made it this far. We could have hemp. Medical will be comeing. In Texas. If we dont give up and force the debates

    7. Miles says:

      I believe that the quickest way for our country to end marijuana prohibition is to vote for Democrats except in those rare instances where a Republican candidate has specifically stated their willingness to end it and stop the madness! As far as I can see, it is primarily the Republicans that want to continue this extremely expensive and destructive war against peaceful cannabis consumers; but with a few exceptions that should be noted!

    8. Sick and dying from pills! says:

      I have several health problems and take way too many meds, whereas medical marijuana would replace the pain meds, the muscle relaxers, the anti-anxiety and sleep meds. these pills are killing me! Marijuana never hurt anyone. This is all simply due to Texas having a corrupt government. I know. I used to work in law enforcement. Keeping pot illegal is completely insane and criminal of our state officials!

    9. Julian says:

      Thank you RAMP, thank you MAMMA, and every activist for our movement. This last weekend I was wearing my votehemp hat turning my booth at the Lavender Festival into a latent Hemp History Week booth. I was thinking about the odds I was up against, looking at the blue haired old ladies serving food and beer, staring at my hat with a curious smile. I remembered the concern from the Chamber of Commerce;”Hemp? In Blanco? I dont know if were ready for that…”
      Nonetheless, I sold out of hemp-lavender soap. Then I read this blog and it blew my mind… The TexasGOP supports hemp? Could there be a chance to pass legislation next year?
      Were supposed to get some rain later this year, but the lakes are still low and we could still get another drought down the road. If we dont diversify our crops now, there could soon exist the day Texans wont have corn or cotton as viable, sustainable crops.
      I look forward to see what hemp legislation is born of this vote.
      Thanks again everyone.

    10. Galileo Galilei says:

      To bad the GOP so often holds its political ideology above science. This is not a strategic approach that will take them to success in the 21st century. Give them power, and the USA will loose its political preeminence within a generation.