Something remarkable for the future of cannabis is happening in the Lone Star state. Texas Republicans and Democrats moved together in unusual harmony to put cannabis reform in a place it's never been before: on the table.
The Nov. 6, 2018, election put the change in real terms: 19 female African-American judges were elected in Harris County, which includes Houston. And in North Texas, one of the most consistent obstacles to cannabis reform was ousted after nearly two decades in office. Civil-rights attorney Colin Allred defeated 11-term Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who had routinely obstructed dozens of cannabis reform bills as chair of the House Rules Committee.
“We're not just counting on Democrats…we're getting everyone on board. And don't forget, Texas is a big state,” said Heather Fazio, Director of Austin-based Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “We're having an adult conversation about cannabis and we're finding common ground among all groups and political persuasions.”
Fazio told Marijuana.com that it's all about talking to legislators because the only way to get an amendment moving in Texas is to pass a bill with a super-majority, which is not always easy. But they have other effective means, Fazio said. Texans like to talk.
“There is nothing more persuasive than a mom coming into a meeting or into a legislative office and explaining how medical marijuana helps her child,” Fazio said.
Thalia Michelle has done just that on numerous occasions.
Michelle co-founded Mothers Advocating for Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA) in 2014 to expand access to therapeutic cannabis for the millions affected by the disorder, which the Centers for Disease Control counts as 1 out of every 59 persons. The group grew out of an evangelical Bible study group in Texas. Michelle has a 13-year-old son whose autism is accompanied by aggressive, self-injurious tantrums that can last for hours.
“I have always thought the future of medical cannabis looks bright. I believe it's inevitable for medical cannabis to become a mainstream treatment option,” Michelle told Marijuana.com. “I think we are simply waiting for science to catch up.”
Suzanne Josey, who is MAMMA's board secretary, agreed that science and education are the keys to convincing Texas legislators.
“We're showing our lawmakers new research that supports the need for the whole cannabis plant to treat autism,” Josey said. “We want them to understand that the side effects of cannabis are a lot safer than having your teenager smash his or her arm through a glass window.”
Texas's medical marijuana program, the Compassionate Use Act, requires that a patient's cannabis oil contain no more than 0.5 percent THC by weight, and the program covers only intractable epilepsy.
Many of the Texas parents or family members of children with autism choose not to discuss the particulars of their administration of medicinal cannabis.
Kara, their 19-year-old daughter, has cerebral palsy and a severe form of autism that includes self-injurious behavior.
The Zartlers are pleased that they, and a majority of their 740,000 neighbors in Texas' 32nd District, helped Allred oust longtime incumbent Sessions. They're also happy with their new state Rep.-elect, Ana-Maria Ramos.
“Both of them defeated unsupportive incumbents. It feels good to finally have representatives who publicly support reform,” Christy Zartler told Marijuana.com. “They have both reassured me that they support medical cannabis for patients like my daughter Kara Zartler in Texas.”
Kara's father, Mark, added that it was a first to have lawmakers who want to help them.
“Marijuana advocates across North Texas worked very hard to defeat Pete Sessions,” said Mark Zartler. “We all really put our hearts into this election. It feels good when it works out.”
Zartler noted that Sessions' downfall had a cascading effect on lower ballot candidates as Democrats gained ground in both chambers of the Statehouse.
“We hope to use this momentum to convince our lawmakers to do the right thing, pass reform. We're optimistic these elections will help grease the wheels,” said Mark Zartler.
“It's hard to see why lawmakers think it's politically wise to continue to balk at reform. It's the opposite,” he said. “It's costing them votes.”