David Simpson’s bill to “deregulate” marijuana in Texas became an overnight Internet sensation not so much for its legal intent but for his novel views on what for years has been viewed by many conservatives in the Lone Star State as a dangerous narcotic.
While most efforts to decriminalize pot across America have come from the left side of the political spectrum, Simpson, a Republican state representative from Longview, comes at it from the Christian, free-market right.
“Everything that God made is good, even marijuana,” he said in explaining his legislation, which he filed Monday at the state capital in Austin. “The conservative thought is that government doesn’t need to fix something that God made good.”
Simpson’s 24-page bill begins: “The following provisions are repealed,” then lists dozens of Texas statutes related to marijuana. If the Legislature were to approve House Bill 2165 and it was signed by the governor, pot in Texas would be regulated like any crop.
In a news release, Simpson said he supported regulating marijuana like the state regulates “tomatoes, jalapeños or Coffee.”
The odds of the bill winning legislative approval and Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature are virtually zero, according to Gary Hale, former intelligence chief in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Houston division and a drug policy scholar at the Baker Institute for Public Policy.
“It’s probably a little too much at this point,” Hale said. “A blanket decriminalization of marijuana and classification as a vegetable is not going to happen.”
There was no immediate reaction from the office of House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. An aide advised not to await a call back.
None of which is to say that marijuana may not come up during the current legislative session. But if any change comes at all, the end result is much more likely to be decriminalizing possession of a small amount of the drug than seeing pot for sale in the coffee aisle of H-E-B.
Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat who is vice chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, where marijuana legislation is typically debated, is sponsoring a bill that would let people caught with less than 2 ounces of pot avoid jail time and face a fine of no more than $100.
He said a wide spectrum of marijuana reform legislation has been filed this session and is likely to spark a broad discussion at the Legislature. But Simpson’s bill is equivalent to “moving from a pretty robust sanctioning scheme under current law to no prohibition or regulation,” Moody said.
“Texas has been absent from the national conversation regarding marijuana enforcement and to go from zero discussion to the broadest reform in the country is pretty drastic,” he said. “I’ve never seen the Legislature take that drastic of a step.”
Simpson’s bill deregulating pot takes a markedly different approach to marijuana law reform than other states have adopted. Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Washington, D.C., all have voted to legalize pot within a detailed framework of taxation and regulation. But Simpson’s bill would offer no such restrictions.
Simpson, 54, said he wants to “reframe the current marijuana discussion” by talking prohibition repeal in terms of common conservative values. Many of his Republican peers also support repeal of prohibition, and consider the nation’s long-running war on drugs an “abysmal failure.”
For Simpson, it all comes down to his belief in less government.
“We should use our resources in law enforcement to deal with murder, with rape, with theft, but just possessing a substance that God made is not wrong,” he said. “If you use it irresponsibly, then sure. If you drive off the road from marijuana, then sure, but I don’t know anyone who’s run off the road because of marijuana. I do know people who have fallen asleep because they ate too much.”
“It’s the official party position that we don’t favor legalization of marijuana. However, it should be noted that a sizable minority voted in favor of allowing medical marijuana usage,” said Steve Munisteri, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas. “It was hotly contested by a sizable number of delegates on both sides.”
Simpson’s bill has yet to be referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which has handled all other marijuana measures. Maybe the leadership is trying to tell him something. He’s undeterred.
“Putting people in prison and teaching them a whole lot about crime, separating them from the family,” he said, “taking away the breadwinners simply for possessing a plant that God made – that’s wrong.”