Texas NORML I

  • Print

TEXAS NORML: INTERVIEW WITH EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR JOSH SCHIMBERG

"Cannabis is a safer substance than all other drugs, legal or not, is less addictive than caffeine, and can help alleviate literally hundreds of medical conditions; so why is it that Texas lawmakers refuse to allow sick Texans access to this wonderful plant? Cannabis should be available to adults in the same manner that aspirin or cough medicine is legal, regulated, and over-the-counter." – Josh Schimberg, Executive Director

 

AUSTIN420: WHERE DOES THE MEDICAL CANNABIS MOVEMENT CURRENTLY STAND IN TEXAS?

JS: We do not have any protection for medical marijuana patients, however, for the past four legislative sessions, there has been a medical marijuana bill introduced into legislature by Texas state representative Elliot Naishtat, a Democrat out of Austin. The bill is an Affirmative Defense Bill which would provide a legal defense in court for patients who wound up in court for possession charge, but it wouldn’t necessarily protect those patients from being arrested. The Affirmative Defense Bill also protects doctors from any measures taken against them from talking to their patients about the medical cannabis. A doctor could potentially lose their license if they were to tell a patient (on the record) that cannabis could help them for a condition. If the bill passes, that would no longer be a problem for doctors (in Texas) to talk to their patients the use medical cannabis.

AUSTIN420: WHAT PROPOSALS ARE IN DEVELOPMENT?

JS: One bill is the Affirmative Defense Bill, a.k.a the Karen Heikkala Compassionate Care Act and the other, more comprehensive bill is The Tim Timmons Compassionate Care Act which is more in terms of allowing patients to have a caregiver, who can grow and provide their medicine to them as the caregiver would also be protected under the bill, as long as the caregiver has written documentation that he or she is the caregiver for the specific patient. We’re optimistic about the Karen Heikkala Compassionate Care Act being introduced, and as soon as it is, we’ll be having action alerts on that, so people can take action and contact their legislators about it.

AUSTIN420: HOW DOES REAL-LIFE TESTIMONIALS (FROM REAL PATIENTS) PLAY A PART?

JS: Real-life testimonials from patients are essential to putting a face to what we’re trying to do as far as medical cannabis is concerned. The people we work with including NORML and myself, don’t necessarily have a noticeable medical condition, and of course there’s people like Tim Timmons in Ft. Worth (who has MS) and has been a very vocal and outspoken proponent of medical cannabis for years. There’s nothing I or anyone at Texas NORML can say in making an impact like Tim Timmons. If we hope to make any progress with the legislators as a whole, we have to be able to show them that there’s people out there that really need this to be functional in their lives. Somebody that is disabled to the point, where doctors can only shove prescription narcotics down their throats, because of their condition, all those doctors are doing is treating a symptom where the side effects of the treatment are just as bad as the symptom they were originally trying to treat. If one could say in front of the legislators ‘ I’m not having to take all these pharmaceuticals, I can use cannabis and come to the Capitol and talk to you like a normal functional person.’ That makes a big statement to the legislators, to the staffers, to people who may not understand.

AUSTIN420: WHAT OTHER STATES (DO YOU FEEL) COULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR TEXAS TO FOLLOW?

JS: The one state that could really set an example for Texas is going to be Washington State because their medical marijuana law as an affirmative defense bill similar to the Karen Heikkala Compassionate Care Act, here in Texas. As far as I’ve seen and everything I’ve read, the bill in Washington is working just fine. Patients have the protection they want and are not facing any arrests or prosecution for that. There’s also been a new bill just introduced into Washington legislature that is looking to expand some of the “acceptable conditions” that patients can have a recommendation for marijuana.

AUSTIN420: WHAT’S A WAY FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH ON CANNABIS TO BEGIN HERE IN TEXAS?

JS: In order for any organization, or any researchers in the U.S. to be able to legally conduct research on marijuana, they have to get an OK from the Drug Enforcement Agency. With marijuana being set as Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, this basically bars anyone from legally growing it for research purposes. With that being said, you have places like California, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, where under state law, people are allowed to grow marijuana for their medical cannabis programs, and there has been some research being done in those states by colleges or independent researchers. Potentially, if we could get a medical cannabis law passed in Texas and have legal medical cannabis grown here, then there’s potential for us to do more research in this state.

AUSTIN420: WHAT STRIDES HAS TEXAS NORML MADE FOR CANNABIS IN TEXAS?

JS: We worked with an organization called SAFER (Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation) and successfully pass a student initiative at UT asking the administrators to equalize penalties for student use of alcohol and marijuana, because scientifically, marijuana is safer than alcohol, for the user and for society. Texas NORML helped support a bill in the Texas Legislature, HB 2391, which gives law enforcement the option of not arresting a suspect on the spot for misdemeanor marijuana possession. The bill was signed into law in 2009, and has been implemented in a few areas including Travis County.

AUSTIN420: HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED IN SHOWING SUPPORT?

JS: By taking a moment of their time to talk to their families, friends, and co-workers (if at liberty to do so) about these issues because the fact of the matter is, people like our own family, friends, and co-workers, are having their lives torn apart from minor possession of marijuana in Texas. Tell them that it’s okay to speak up about the issue because that’s how our political process works. If we don’t speak up, if we don’t get in contact with our legislators, they’re never going to know that there’s a significant portion of their constituents that would like to see a loosening of the marijuana laws, and don’t want to see people locked up for non-violent, minor marijuana possession. A lot of people just don’t know the facts and won’t learn them, unless we talk to them about it. ~