This election season our newspaper added two questions on drug policy to questionnaires we sent candidates for state offices. Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, surprised me with his answer on whether he’d support putting a medical marijuana amendment on the ballot for voters to decide.
Parker said he’d be open to a tightly written medical marijuana amendment.
Further, in an interview with the editorial board yesterday (along with his Democratic opponent, Daniel Moran, a UNT student), Parker said he would support legislation eliminating jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. His position reminded me of Gov. Rick Perry’s statement this year that, “You don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint.”
Parker’s position is interesting, coming from the chairman of the House Corrections Committee who’s regarded as pretty conservative. If Parker occupies this space on drug policy, it could indicate movement by more Republicans than I would have expected for next session.
Here is Parker’s answer to the medical marijuana question on the online questionnaire:
Like so many other Texans, I have a first-hand understanding of how difficult it can be to meet unique healthcare challenges within our existing framework. I do support new and innovative approaches to treating those who are terminally or otherwise extremely ill. For example, I recently attended a legislative seminar on the topic of allowing terminal patients who have exhausted all other treatment options the ability to employ experimental treatments that are still in the testing phase and not yet approved for wide use.
I do think it is important that we grant those whose lives are at risk every treatment option possible to cure their condition and live a productive life. Medical marijuana is a topic that has been discussed in the Texas Legislature since I was first elected in 2006. Like any other issue of public policy, it is one that is always evolving and I look forward to continuing to compile new data and information on the topic.
However, I am currently considering support for tightly written legislation that would provide marijuana on a strict prescription basis for very specific conditions that have clearly demonstrated medical benefits, such as epilepsy.
In our interview yesterday, I told Parker that his position on MMJ is newsworthy, considering his politics. I think my eyes bugged out. He chuckled and said: “I throw people off once in a while.”
He told us this, on medical MJ:
When you see children battling epilepsy, and you see the horrific seizures that they’re going through, and I’ve got verifiable scientific evidence that shares with me that this can really make a difference in the quality of life for these children, I find it to be inhumane on my part to not look seriously at how we can create and craft [a bill] very tightly for specific conditions.
This is not, by any means, Tan Parker opening up the world to marijuana or decriminalization, broadly.
Beyond medical marijuana, we talked about sentencing for drug use for nonviolent offenders, and Parker’s ideas tracked smart-on-crime policies that the state has been adopting in recent years. He specifically said his thinking is a continuation of policies advanced by former corrections chairman Jerry Madden of Richardson, now retired from the Legislature.
What Parker said, in the context of whether the right people are in the prison population of 152,000 and how to return drug offenders to society:
The first determination for me is, is this person a risk to society? Our jails are there for a reason, and that is to protect us.
The reality is, for those individuals who don’t have a violent behavior per se, who have an addictive problem to whatever substance it may be, it seems to me what we are doing in many ways — I’m speaking broadly — but it seems to me we are putting a scarlet letter “A” on their chest, we are taking them away from their family in many cases, we are putting them in a prison facility for six months to a year. They are being educated by the best and brightest in their industry, so they really learn how to become a criminal, where perhaps they weren’t before.
Then we try to pluck them out of that environment and bring them back home, into society, And what are we able to accomplish? Well, we know how hard it is for them to get back and get beyond that scarlet letter “A” on their chest.
In my mind, we need to look at more intelligent ways so we don’t identify them and give them that burden throughout life. And, I don’t think that six months or a year prison sentence is really making a difference. I really don’t. … What they really need is aggressive therapy in order to change their addictive behavior.
I asked Parker this: “I think you can do 180 days for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Does that make sense?” His reply:
That’s my point. It doesn’t make sense. We’re not changing behavior in that six months. We could do more with those resources in a probationary basis, and not just a regular probation officer. One that provides real counseling, that helps them break the addictive cycle. …
I think it’s very important for people to understand my view on this, that they know I’m as tough on crime as anybody in the country. Violent crime is a different deal….
But the conservative movement now is recognizing [regarding drug crimes] that it’s not just about locking them up behind bars. Our conservative intellect leads us to look further, and that’s where we are in this discussion today.
I re-asked the question of whether Parker would support legislation to eliminate jail time for small amounts of marijuana. (I should have asked about trace amounts of hard drugs, but I didn’t). His answer:
Yes, I would. The time has come for us to do this and take a thoughtful approach. And so what you’ll see me do if I have the privilege of being re-elected by the people of Denton County in November, and the Speaker would continue to have me as his corrections chairman, I think you’ll see me work with the right and the left, which is kind of interesting that they’re coming together on this topic — the experts on both sides, to take action in these areas.
Again, it’s important for people to know we’re as tough on crime as we’ve ever been. We’re also being more intelligent on crime, and, I think, doing the right thing for taxpayers, protecting families and providing counseling and rehabilitative services, which are so critical, as opposed to spending time in a jail cell.
Speaking of the right-left alliance on criminal justice issues, a broad coalition has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday morning in the Capitol to lay out a “smart on crime” agenda for next session.
Groups represented will include the Texas Association of Business, Texas Public Policy Foundation, ACLU, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and the Texas Criminal Justice Coaliton.