After the Texas state legislature failed to address the public’s strong support for medical marijuana, the Marijuana March in Austin drew crowds in support of cannabis reform.
In its tenth year, the Marijuana March started at Austin City Hall and ended at the state capitol building. Marchers had many reasons for participating, ranging from sentencing reform to helping veterans cope with life-altering conditions.
“The next two years are vital for us. We need you to be the voice you said you would be for us and stand for us when we cannot,”
said Eric Espionza, a cerebral palsy patient who uses marijuana.
The recent legislative session has been described as an all-out battle, particularly over abortion bills. Both parties used stall tactics to manipulate the outcome of several bills, but at the expense of other legislation with strong public and bipartisan support. HB 2107 and HB 81 were two such bills that would have legalized medical marijuana and greatly reduced the penalties for marijuana possession, respectively. These bills went through public hearings and followed the bureaucratic process needed to bring them to a vote, but the prioritization of other political battles put cannabis reform on the back burner.
Dave Wienecke, Director of Fitness and Athletics for Texas NORML, stated that people are suffering and dying due to a lack of medical marijuana legalization,
“Or they’re just passing away because they can’t afford their medicine, or because the pharmaceuticals they’re taking are deteriorating their bodies.”
The Veteran Population
Texas has one of the highest veteran populations in the country, and are at a significantly higher risk of PTSD, chronic pain, and depression. HB 2107 would have given veterans access to treatments that don’t involve opioids or prescription tranquilizers.
“It’s been very well-documented that cannabis use can help with the symptoms of PTSD. It can help with the symptoms of chronic pain that veterans return with,”
said Silvestre Tanenbaum, a member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP).
“It really is a benefit for the veterans of Texas for those who are the tip of the spear keeping our country safe,” he said.
Having an alternative to opioids means more than just an additional treatment option. Research has shown that marijuana can both alleviate chronic pain and may be used in lieu of highly addictive opioid painkillers that are causing a nationwide epidemic with no end in sight. For pediatric caregiver Amanda Berard, medical marijuana means more control for patients who already have few choices. “The autonomy of these patients are completely stripped away and there’s not even a conversation about options,” she said.
Texas veterans and patients will have to wait until the next legislative session in 2019 to pursue cannabis reform. Until then, activists will work to keep this issue at the forefront of the state’s agenda.