Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, a staunch Republican whose seat is up for election in November, came out in support of medical cannabis in a recent editorial, calling access to the plant a fundamental freedom. 

Texas is one of 13 states where medical cannabis is not fully legalized without low-THC restrictions. Texas does have a program, but that program includes a 1% THC cap on medical cannabis—toeing the line with the legal definition of hemp, which is 0.3% THC or lower.

An eighth-generation farmer and rancher, Miller is currently serving his second four-year term as commissioner of the state’s Agriculture Department after previously serving 12 years in the Texas House of Representatives.

“In a free society, government should only make something illegal for a powerful reason or set of facts,” he wrote in a July 15 editorial. “The freedom of the people to make their own choices and decisions is a fundamental [principle] of a true democracy.”

Miller compared policies on cannabis to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, writing that the drug war has fostered gangs, corruption and widespread violence against the lives and liberties of American citizens.

“As I look back, I believe that cannabis prohibition came from a place of fear, not from medical science or the analysis of social harm,” he wrote. “Sadly, the roots of this came from a history of racism, classism, and a large central government with an authoritarian desire to control others. It is as anti-American in its origins as could be imaginable.”

While progress toward reform has been made in the U.S., including 19 states and Washington, D.C., fully legalizing cannabis for adult use by those 21 and older, there are still more than half a million Americans being arrested for cannabis possession every year, according to Marijuana Policy Project.

In Texas, possessing any amount of cannabis can result in 180 days of incarceration and a $2,000 max fine, while possessing 2 ounces to 4 ounces is punishable by a year in prison and a $4,000 fine, according to NORML. Possessing more than 4 ounces is a felony.

While Miller called for an end to prohibition, writing that a new chapter and a new attitude about cannabis use must come in the 21st century, he also suggested that Texas is not yet ready for a commercial adult-use retail market. 

“While I am not sure that Texas is ready to go that far, I have seen firsthand the value of cannabis as medicine to so many Texans,” he wrote. “Those states that have gone before Texas are providing real-world data and research about what they are doing right and what can be improved. But the roots for good Texas policy on cannabis have already been planted.”

Those roots are shallow compared to the majority of states with medical cannabis programs in the U.S.

Texas expanded its medical program in September 2021 to include cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as qualifying conditions, but chronic pain remains on the sideline as a condition to gain access to 1% THC cannabis. In states without potency limits, patients generally have access to flower that tests between 20% and 30% THC, while 35% THC is not unheard of.

“It is my goal next year to expand access to the compassionate use of cannabis products in Texas so that every Texan with a medical need has access to these medicines,” Miller wrote. “When four out of five Texans support compassionate use, we need to have state law and state policy reflect that desire. I will urge our state Legislature and our governor to make that a top priority in the upcoming legislative session.”

From the executive level, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1535 into law last year—legislation that led to the program’s expansion in September. Abbott also has shown support for justice reform, specifically signaling that he favors decriminalization policies during a January campaign stop in Edinburg.

Advocating for broader legalization efforts is Texas governor hopeful Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat who is challenging Abbott, a two-term incumbent, this November.

O’Rourke has supported a shift in cannabis policies since at least 2009. His stance is now shared by the majority in Texas, where 67% of the state’s citizens support legalizing cannabis for adult use, according to a November 2021 survey from the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.

As reported by The Hill, Abbott holds a 5-point lead on O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race, according to a poll released July 12.

Regardless of who wins in November, Miller called for elected officials to put their political differences aside and have an honest conversation about cannabis, including “where we have been, where we are going and what role the government should properly play.”

He concluded his editorial by writing, “We owe it to our fellow Texans, especially those who are suffering, to lead or just get out of the way if we cannot formulate effective cannabis policy for Texas.”

 

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