A Houston man thought he stumbled into the tiger bathroom scene from the movie The Hangover this week when he broke into an abandoned house to smoke weed. In the garage of the vacant house, on the 9400 block of East Avenue J which the man entered illegally, he found a big tiger in a small cage. Barely secured, the lock on the cage was held together by a screwdriver and a nylon strap. The man called authorities to report the caged tiger, and he admitted on the phone that he broke into the home to smoke weed.
“A concerned citizen called 311. They were trying to get into this house to smoke marijuana,” said Sgt. Jason Alderete of HPD’s Major Offenders, Livestock Animal Cruelty Unit. “We questioned them as to whether they were under the effects of the drugs or they actually saw a tiger. They saw a tiger in this building, this vacant house that’s obviously been abandoned for some time.”
In the garage near the female tiger’s cage, authorities found several empty packages of meat, so they report that she has been well fed while being kept in the deplorable conditions. Authorities also report that the giant cat seemed to be friendly and displayed a good temperament throughout the transfer process.
Describing the circumstances in which they found the tiger, Houston city official Lara Cottingham said, “A pretty small cage inside basically a garage in a house that didn’t look like it was in the best shape. So it was important that we get it out of that situation.”
A tow truck was used to haul the caged tiger out of the garage of the vacant home.
Having a tiger in the state of Texas can be legal as long as the handler has a valid game permit, but tiger possession is illegal, no matter what, within Houston city limits.
As of Tuesday morning, the tiger is on her way to an animal sanctuary in Texas, where she will be properly cared for and have ample space to roam free. “We’re excited that we found an animal rescue center that’s going to come and take her this morning and transfer her to a location that has the facilities and the veterinarians who specialize in big cats that can take care of her,” said Cottingham.
Possessing small amounts marijuana would no longer come with the threat of jail time if a Texas Democratic representative—and the state’s Republican Party—have their way.
On Monday, the pre-filing period for the upcoming 2019 legislative session, which begins in January, kicked off, and one of the first bills put forward is a proposal to decriminalize cannabis.
“Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I’ve filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There’s been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now,” Rep. Joe Moody, the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release. “I’m optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas.”
“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the state GOP platform now reads.
Advocates believe that 2019 could finally be the year for far-reaching marijuana reform in Texas.
“The time has come for marijuana law reform,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said. “Over the last several years, we’ve seen increasing support and this legislative session offers a unique opportunity for reform. Just as support for reform transcends partisan politics among Texas voters, we also see unprecedented bipartisan support at the Capitol.”
During a debate with his reelection opponent in September, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for the first time expressed openness to marijuana law reform.
“One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana,” he said.
“I would be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for [marijuana] possession of two ounces or less from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor,” Abbott said.
While that would fall short of the decriminalization proposal put forth by Moody and supported by advocates, it signals that cannabis reform is now possible in the Lone Star State.
Moody’s bill would eliminate the threat of arrest, jail time and a criminal record for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.
Several other pieces of marijuana legislation were also pre-filed on Monday, including several to expand the state’s existing very limited medical cannabis program, one of which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2019.
This piece was updated to note that other cannabis-related bills have also been introduced.
See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:
The full U.S. House of Representatives hasn’t voted on any marijuana amendments since 2016, and it’s largely because of one man.
In his capacity as chairman of the House Rules Committee, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has enormous power over which measures make it to the floor for consideration by his colleagues.
Despite continued efforts from a large group of bipartisan representatives, Sessions’s panel has consistently blocked all cannabis proposals from advancing over the course of nearly two years.
In wide-ranging comments at a federal event on Tuesday, Sessions revealed the extent to which he disapproves of marijuana use and misunderstands scientific research about its effects.
“If addiction is the problem and we have marketers of addiction that include marijuana — because all you have to do is go to any of the stores in Colorado and they can give you high to low to medium to chocolate — we ought to call for it what it is,” he said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If it were nicotine, it would have been outlawed; well, it would have been handled differently. But this is a political issue.”
Saying he thinks there are “better alternatives [than marijuana to treat medical conditions],” Sessions’s view is that “we don’t have to go to that.”
And implying that marijuana use causes young people to do other drugs as well, he asked, “Where do they start? If it’s marijuana, we ought to stand up and be brave in the medical community to say this political direction is not right.”
Numerous studies have shown that cannabis has medical value for people suffering from a variety of conditions, and research has routinely debunked the so-called “gateway theory” about marijuana leading to use of other drugs.
Also at the event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sessions claimed that the potency of marijuana has risen dramatically since he was a young man.
“I referred to marijuana as merchants, this is a merchants of addiction, they are making it more powerful and more powerful and more powerful,” he said, according to the Star-Telegram. “When I went to high school … in 1973, I graduated, marijuana, on average, is 300 times more powerful. That becomes an addictive element for a child to then go to the next thing.”
While studies have shown that the THC concentrations in cannabis have generally risen over the past several decades, the “300 times more powerful” figure isn’t supported by the research base. Taken at face value, the math would mean that cannabis plants are comprised of more than 100 percent THC, a physical impossibility.
Sessions Blocks All Marijuana Amendments
After years of trying and failing to pass cannabis amendments in Congress, reformers scored their first big federal legislative victory in 2014, when the House of Representatives passed a measure to block the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws. The measure was enacted into law, and also approved the following year with an even bigger bipartisan margin of victory on the House floor.
The last time the full House voted on marijuana, in May 2016, it approved a measure to allow military veterans to receive medical cannabis recommendations from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs doctors.
But the next month, Sessions’s Rules Committee began its cannabis blockade by preventing measures on marijuana banking and letting Washington, D.C. spend its own money to regulate cannabis from advancing.
Since then, the panel has consistently blocked any and all marijuana amendments from moving to the floor, including ones to extend the existing medical cannabis protections and to allow marijuana providers to take tax deductions that are available to businesses in other industries.
The committee has also shut down measures to extend the existing state medical cannabis protections to cover laws that allow for recreational marijuana use. In 2015, that amendment came just nine flipped votes short of passage on the floor. The number of states with legalization has more than doubled since the last vote on it, so the proposal would almost certainly pick up support now that many more members of Congress represent businesses and consumers who would be protected by it.
But Sessions’s blockade has ensured that his colleagues haven’t been given another opportunity to consider it again.
While the decision to stop letting the House vote on marijuana measures came at the same time as leaders began shutting down amendments on other issues deemed to be controversial, such as gun control and LGBT rights, Sessions’s new comments at the HHS event show he has a particular concern about cannabis policy changes.
Personal Experience Informs Sessions’s Anti-Marijuana Views
Last month, just before blocking a new version of the amendment to protect broad state marijuana laws from advancing, the Texas Republican spoke about his distaste for marijuana.
“I, as probably everybody in this rooms knows, have a strong opinion on drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol,” he said. “Marijuana is an addictive product, and the merchants of addiction make it that way. They make it for addiction. They make it to where our people, our young people, become addicted to marijuana and keep going.
And his position seems to be informed by the experiences of people who are close to him.
“A dear friend of mine, David Siegel, a wealthy man, one of the wealthiest men in America, had an 18-year-old daughter who was in treatment, I believe for marijuana and maybe cocaine,” Sessions said. “She met a boy there and within three weeks after being out she was dead. She came back and did what she had been doing after being off it.”
Sessions later told of a Boy Scout he knew in Lake Highland, who went off to school at Texas A&M, and fell into heavy drug use started by smoking marijuana. “Never had smoked marijuana,” Sessions said. “At the end of the first year, he was well into it; the second year, he was into heroin. The drive for addiction with some of our children is insatiable. You just never know when you’re looking at a kid what drives them. But parents are desperate.”
Sessions, like all members of the House, is up for reelection this year. The Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, currently rates the district as “Lean Republican.”
In the meantime, Sessions faces fellow Republican Paul Brown in a March 6 primary. Brown’s campaign website says the federal government “should not legislate…narcotics. Those should be legislated by states or localities if they are to be legislated at all.”
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), one of the House’s leading advocates for marijuana policy reform, announced last year that his political action committee would pay to put up billboards in Sessions’s district criticizing his cannabis blockade.
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,”
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.”
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,”
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.
Despite strong bipartisan support, public outreach and multiple hearings, Texas will have to wait until 2019 for marijuana reform. The main reason for the failure was scheduling.
The hearing for HB 2107 was held late in the legislative session, which means paperwork wasn’t filed in time for a vote. Texas lawmakers heard from law enforcement, doctors, patients, caregivers, veterans, and activists who supported the bill that would have allowed whole plant cannabis be made available to patients with qualifying conditions. Opposition mainly came from law enforcement and doctors who specialize in treating pain. A statewide awareness campaign helped educate the public on the importance of cannabis reform, and HB 2107 had support from 77 state legislators.
HB 81, which was co-sponsored by State representatives Joe Moody, D-El Paso and Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would have reduced penalties for marijuana possession to a $250 maximum for one ounce of cannabis or less, plus a citation. The vote was scheduled for the final day of the session but didn’t make it to the floor. The bill was an effort to curb mass incarceration and reign in the cost of prosecuting minor drug crimes, and was backed by 44 state legislators.
“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,”
said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney in March. “Each marijuana arrest uses about 2.5 hours of police time. With 60,000-70,000 people arrested in Texas annually, this is a significant amount of police time that could be devoted to patrolling residential neighborhoods and business locations and responding to emergency calls.”
Despite the support for both bills, the legislative session was packed with numerous bills that never made it to a vote. Activists are still encouraged by how far marijuana reform advanced through committees, and there has been speculation about revising the bills as amendments that could be tacked onto other legislation.
Should Texas legalize medical marijuana during the next legislative session in 2019, it would become the 30th state to do so. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now live in a state where marijuana has been legalized in some form.