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Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Changing marijuana laws in Canada and Mexico create pressure on Texas

Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat republished from Houston Chronicle


In just two weeks in October, the legal landscape for marijuana use in North America changed dramatically.

First, Canada opened sales of legalized pot for recreational use, and then Mexico’s high court delivered a definitive ruling that citizens have the right to possess the weed for their personal use. That leaves Texas virtually surrounded by states that allow marijuana for medical use — but not for recreational purposes — as well as being sandwiched between two neighboring countries that have liberalized their stance on personal usage of the drug.

And while the Lone Star State is a long way from following the example of Canada and Mexico, there seems to be growing support for at least reducing stiff criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of the weed. Currently, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by a six-month jail term and a $2,000 fine.
“Even in Texas, public opinion seems to have shifted from criminalization to at least decriminalization, with strengthening support for legalization,” said Nora Demleitner, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia and the lead author of the textbook “Sentencing: Law and Policy.”

Among the frontrunners of decriminalization in Texas is Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who shortly after taking office in 2017 created a marijuana diversion program for first-time offenders that eliminates jail time and a criminal record if the person attends a drug awareness class and is not re-arrested. A similar diversion program is in operation in Austin’s Travis County.

Ogg rationalized that the average $25 million per year that the county spent prosecuting low-level pot consumers and locking them up was a wasteful public policy, preferring instead to use those funds to support fighting other crimes that threaten community safety.

And the county’s top prosecutor is not alone, recent polling indicates.

Less than 20 percent of registered voters in Texas object to legalizing marijuana and overall, 53 percent would legalize pot either in small or any amounts, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll conducted before the midterm elections.

The trend seems similar across the country, where so far 10 states have legalized marijuana and 33 allow it to be used for medical treatment.

“Expending resources on investigation, interdiction, prosecution and incarceration is a waste of those resources,” agreed Barry Grissom, a former U.S. prosecutor in Kansas and vice president of Electrum Partners, a Las Vegas venture management firm specializing in cannabis. He added that those assets “should be directed toward violent crime, human trafficking, sexual exploitation of children on the internet; things that will make our communities safer.”

Texas lawmakers passed a law in 2015 that allows doctors to prescribe a CBD oil, or cannabidiol without intoxicating properties, for patients with epilepsy that don’t respond to approved.

Despite the criminal penalties, Texas has two of the Top 10 consumer cities in the country. Houston occupies the fourth spot with an estimated 21 metric tons of weed consumed last year, after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, according to the 2018 Cannabis Price Index from the German company Seedo, which tracks the market around the world. Dallas is number seven with 15 metric tons.

That high demand in Houston and elsewhere in Texas, some experts say, is not being met by traditional drug smuggling networks alone.

“Today in Texas, consumers easily find a wider variety of cannabis products than a few years ago coming from all over the place,” said Dean Becker, a Baker Institute contributing expert in drug policy.

Becker explained that states like Colorado, California and Oregon are growing more than their markets can absorb, and smugglers are flourishing moving the merchandise to other marketplaces. Mexico, he said, isn’t the main Texas supplier anymore as their producers are struggling to compete with the higher quality of U.S. grown products.

Similar reforms in Mexico, Canada

The Canadian Cannabis Act that widely entered into effect on Oct. 17 legalized the recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana (just over an ounce) as well as cultivation for personal, adult consumption.

At the end of October, the Mexican Supreme Justice Court ruled that Mexicans had a right to possess marijuana, and while it did not strike down laws, it made it virtually legal for all purposes except commercial sale.

In November, the government of newly-inaugurated Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador introduced a bill that would legalize commercial cultivation of marijuana, as well as allowing residents to possess and even cultivate small amounts of the weed. Smoking marijuana in public would also be lawful. The purpose, the bill says, is to “promote a model of responsible regulation.” It has ample support in Mexico as a measure to decimate the power of drug cartels and their violent criminal enterprises.

The proposed bill is expected to become law, since the landslide election bringing Lopez Obrador’s political party to power in December also brought his party control of both houses of the Mexican congress.

Failure of ‘War on Drugs’

Tony Payan, director of the Baker Institute’s Mexico Center at Rice University, says the progressive approach to marijuana by Canada and Mexico has roots in the decades of a largely ineffective war against drugs.

“The prohibition and war against it (marijuana) have proven to be a huge failure,” Payan said.

Instead of decreased availability, the decades of costly interdiction efforts on both sides of the border have seen the consumption of marijuana increase in all three North American countries. And in its course, the drug war has resulted in a machine-like criminalization by the justice system for a product that poses no more health issues, and in many cases less, than most legal drugs used for recreational purposes including alcohol and tobacco, according to a number of studies.

“The argument of ‘fear of weed from Mexico’ is over a century old, and hasn’t evolved much beyond the racist them-vs-us origins since then,” said Benton Bodamer, a member of the cannabis practice group at the international law firm Dickinson Wright and an adjunct professor at the Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

He referred to the origins of marijuana prohibition in America in the early 1900s when racist propaganda sensationalized “an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality and death,” in the words of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics which was created in 1930. Following the steps of a previously established racist narrative, he said that the “primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races,” identified as “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers.”

Today, about one in seven adults of all walks of life in the U.S. consumes marijuana, according to 2017 figures from a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in July. It also found that 81 percent of American adults believe that cannabis consumption has at least one benefit, with only 17 percent attributing none at all.

Business opportunities for legalization

“The cannabis industry is a job creator, which Mexico and Canada realize, and it also cuts into the portfolio of criminals by making its use and sale a legitimate business that (creates) jobs and revenue,” said Grissom, the former federal prosecutor.

Grissom says Colorado is a good example, which reported total cannabis sales of $1.5 billion in 2017, and a staggering $5.7 billion since sales began in January 2014, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.

“These funds did not go to criminals but to entrepreneurs who created over 20,000 new full-time jobs that paid a living wage as well as a new source of (tax) revenue for the state,” he said.

Overall, “the nascent U.S. cannabis market is already double the size of Canada’s, at $8.5 billion dollars,” said Brad Alexander, a senior adviser at McGuireWoods Consulting, a public policy advisory firm headquartered in Washington, D.C. He predicts that by 2022, this market could top $20 billion.

Progressive approaches to decriminalization have merged with fiscally conscious conservative arguments when it comes to business.

“Savings in the criminal justice system attract many conservatives while liberals bemoan the racially discriminatory impact of marijuana arrests and prosecutions,” said Demleitner.

Abbott signals support

Recent comments from Gov. Gregg Abbott, a Republican who has opposed marijuana reform, could prove to be a game changer in Texas

Abbott said that he would support decriminalization by reducing the possession of less than two ounces from a B to C misdemeanor, with no jail time. Requests for comments from Abbott were not returned.

With the 86th Texas legislature set to meet in January, already a dozen bills have been introduced dealing with decriminalization as well as legalization of medical and recreational marijuana use.

“All of this momentum foreshadows the global transformation from a fear-based prohibition into a global cannabis industry fueled by facts, market data, medical research, customer-patient experiences, and intelligent and evolving legislative solutions,” said Bodamer, who teaches a class called “Cannabizz” at Ohio State.

And although the federal government continues to abide by a full criminalization of marijuana, Demleitner notes that the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions could mean a change in marijuana enforcement policies.

For the Lone Star state, Demleitner has a prediction about the sandwich effect.

“All in all, Texans of all stripes may be closer than ever to move toward legalization, especially as everyone around them is going along with this major change,” she said.


  1. "Among the frontrunners of decriminalization in Texas is Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who shortly after taking office in 2017 created a marijuana diversion program for first-time offenders that eliminates jail time and a criminal record if the person attends a drug awareness class and is not re-arrested." Chivis , pretty sure that policy isn't anything new . Its referred to as deferred adjudication. The defendant has always been required to pay costs of being processed through the courts .Why would anybody remain in jail for a simple pot charge ? Maybe they aren't a very functional person in society . I know em see em everywhere . Raised my kids pointing them out to them as a example . Penalties have been greatly reduced through the years. There was a time when any amount in Texas was felony . We can keep making it more and more acceptable legally but who is going to give all the pot heads a job ? Not me . The era of the old pot head has come of age . Society is in trouble when that becomes the face of its elders

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. OOOOOO you won't hire me at Chilli's. Or where ever it is you manage. Sitting there on that pedal stool. Looking down on us smokers. If your drank beer for New Years. Who are you to judge?

    3. That is complete bulshit. People smoking marijuana and Society you at all levels judges prosecutors lawyers doctors everybody. I'm sorry that you are in the Stone Age. The pothead doesn't mean anything. That's a label Someone Like You puts on people so that you can discriminate. That's not fair and it isn't right. I wonder who you're actually pointing out to your children some tweaker junkie on the road. Because most potheads you wouldn't even read know that they were potheads they dress like everyone else they have jobs like everyone else. I don't like to talk bad to people, but when someone gives a half-hearted, discriminatory view like yours, I have to respond. Normally I wouldn't say nothing. But I am one of the people that is pushing for complete legalization for cannabis. I've been on the front lines of the medical industry for years. And when I hear someone talk like you, it's no wonder why we have a lock them up and put them away mentality in this country. We have more people on probation parole in prison in this country then then China and Russia combined. If we keep up in the direction we are going and what we're doing to people with these archaic laws, we are doing the citizens of this country great Injustice. Lock him up and keep them down. Your comment disgust me

    4. Haha “who will give all the pot heads a job?” Come on, not everyone who uses cannabis smokes all day long, just like not everyone who uses alcohol is a raging alcoholic. Terrible logic.

    5. You’re ignoring history and what’s happening in Colorado right now. Cannabis is illegal so William Randolph Hearst could make money be getting in about 1920 with his reefer madness campaign. Cannabis has been used for over 10,000 years as a medicine. What is happened in Colorado and Washington has showed us that Cannabis is not a dangerous substance… And there’s plenty of research now that demonstrates that.

      I have a question for you so while pointing out all the potheads to your kids did you point out all of the alcoholics and those addicted to cigarettes as well.
      I’ve smoked marijuana daily for chronic pain for over 50 years I have a Masters degree and graduated magna cum laude And I was award-winning educator multiple times during my 24 year career.

      You and the rest of the idiots of the world who continue to perpetuate the myth that hearst created are ironically victims of fake news from 1920’s Now if that’s not irony at its finest I don’t know what is

    6. Look up willie Nelson and ask yourself is marijuana really that dangerous? The problem is with the legalization of “recreational marijuana “ not medical marijuana! Recreational marijuana is grown with out strict regulations as oppose to medically or organically grown marijuana, I’m from Texas and luckily I have been blessed with the best genetics from some of the bays finest caretakers, my health and fitness has improve dramatically , before marijuana I was an obese individual with asthma , now I am a power lifter with a very good cardio vascular system.. I’ve traveled to Colorado and had the chance to try booth medical and recreational, I gotta say I was very disappointed.. something special is going on in California they create and combine genetics for the people instead for greed!

    7. It's peiope like you that is leaving society in trouble. So what if they smoke pot in their own time? I'm sure as hell your probably surrounded by people that consume mj. Be it medically or recreationally. And whats to say of all the other harmful products that are legal? Cigarettes and liqour? Both way more dangerous than a mj joint.
      No disrespect intended! Much Love and respect to your opinion

    8. Our country has a 3% unemployment rate... meaning most of us pot heads ALREADY have jobs. It's time to get off your reefer madness high horse. Having the "all pot heads are lazy" mentality is just silly this day and age. Chances are, there are a lot more people in your life that use cannabis then you realize.


    9. Doug . Obviously born smart , you say very educated and have performed well in your profession . At least that's what your colleges have said while they pat you on the back and give you awards. Its like giving their school a award . Hide all the bad and exaggerate the good . Just like most addicts and alcoholics you deny it . What is your reputation there in the ville where you live ?You have been there that long surely your known about . Consider this . Who would risk what you would have to lose just to get high ? And doing it all those years .

  2. I know people who have left the producing areas in California because crime has gotten so bad there

  3. How do they get thier money to buy marijusnm, if they don't have a job.

  4. The backwards hypocrisy of Texas, alcohol and cigarettes are worse killers than marijuana yet they are legal.

  5. I am from Texas, montgomery county. That's next to Harris county to be exact. It's absolutely outrageous the way they treat marijuana consumers here, so many futures ruined or tarnished. Harris county at least cuts one slack with the punishment. But Montgomery oh no. Your doing no less than a year in probation and paying outrageous fees.not to mention the fact that one has only been charged not prosecuted and yet while fighting the case they have you paying fines ect. Your basically guilty till you prove your innocence.

    1. If I was a employer looking to hire I would cut my liabilities and only hire people that obeyed the law . Insurance companies demand that the employers they insure employ drug free workers. That's life in the real world.

    2. We all wish we could be as perfect as you 1:04. Congrats on never, ever doing anything wrong. What about driving after two drinks? That's not obeying the law but people do it every single day. You are a perfect representation of the problems with the the judicial system. Are you also the 7:38 troll?

  6. Everybody down at the H smokes pot, went to a concert a few months back cop caught us with weed took it from us and told us to not smoke there that's it. you can find dank laying on the side of the road along cigarettes. Texas is a big market.

  7. I have lived in Texas for almost 30 years and it is a state inhabited by Neanderthals. It will be the last place on the continent to make mj legal. In twenty years after all the old white people have died, maybe but not until then.

    1. When I bought my house on the border...literally can see Mx from the Tx side, i knew nothing about Tx. Yes it is a conservative state, and religion is prevalent. AND they have the nicest, most caring most charitable people in the nation. I love texas and texans and if not for the weather i would call it home.

      there are books written about how it is the greatest charitable statee in the union. if i would have begun my foundation anywhere else i believe it would have failed. but because of texans who step up to help my work in mexico it was a colossal success in a short period of time. from nothing to being formally recognized for my work by the mx gov in 2 short years is amazing....and without Texans it would not have happened.

    2. Thank you Chivis...I’m a native Texan and have lived in Texas for 56 years… And yes we do have some idiots in the state but for the most part Texans are good solid people.

  8. Thank you Chivis - From a Texan

    1. You are welcome. Quick story. My first trip to Texas, I flew into Houston then San Antonio [fave city--but damn the alamo so tiny!] Then we rented a car and drove to the border.

      While we were flying from Houston to SA, we were discussing that i wanted to find a Target close by and take school supplies to Mexico. We were in first class 2 seats to right two at the left. when we were preparing to land a gentleman seated behind me handed me a map he and his travel mate had created depicting the airport, freeways and target stores. plus how to get back on the freeway and catch the 90.

      My sis and I were stunned. they overheard our dilemma and went to work. and we used the map because my travel gps was not working well. that was 14 years ago. a great memory because it exemplified how Texans are, if you need help, they show up, they don't wait to be asked. look at the hurricanes etc

      if only we all could have the heart and spirit of Texans.

    2. I'm sure being beautiful, young females didn't hurt haha

    3. I’m sure it didn’t either and I’m certain Chivis and her sister are most definitely beautiful… But in Texas we would stop and help you regardless, particularly if it’s a woman by herself or with other women and or children...I’m not saying that in a sexlst way, but in Texas that’s just how we roll—our women and kids we protect them and we help them regardless.

      And if you do harm to them and we catch you may God have mercy on your soul cause you’re gonna need it.

  9. Genuinely when someone doesn't be aware
    of after that its up to other people that they will assist,
    so here it happens.


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