State Rep. David Simpson's bill to decriminalize marijuana is a new approach to the issue. He's making a "Christian case" against prohibition of the naturally growing plant.
The bill would "strike all references to marijuana" from Texas criminal statutes.
"I am proposing that this plant be regulated like tomatoes, jalapeos or coffee," Rep. Simpson, R-Longview, said in a statement. "Current marijuana policies are not based on science or sound evidence, but rather misinformation and fear. All that God created is good, including marijuana. God did not make a mistake when he made marijuana that the government needs to fix. Let's allow the plant to be utilized for good — helping people with seizures, treating warriors with PTSD, producing fiber and other products — or simply for beauty and enjoyment. Government prohibition should be for violent actions that harm your neighbor — not of the possession, cultivation and responsible use of plants."
Simpson, who is a staunch conservative, said he sees himself as a supporter of law-and-order. That, too, is a reason why he filed the bill.
"In the name of protecting the public, certain substances have been declared evil and contraband," he said. "So evil are these substances that state and federal agents are empowered to enforce laws with little to no regard for constitutional protections of individual rights, the sanctity of one's home or the right to travel freely."
In fact, he said, current laws have eroded law-and-order and the Rule of Law.
"Our current ‘war on drugs' policies, though well-intended, have accomplished the exact opposite, spurring a proliferation of ever-changing exotic designer drugs and a disregard for constitutional protections in the name of eliminating drugs at any cost," he said. "Just think of no-knock warrants, stop-and-frisk, civil asset forfeiture and billionaire drug lords."
There's some biblical support for Simpson's position, one local Bible scholar said.
"If you're going to use the Bible as your base, there's an excellent case to be made for moderation," said Dr. Aubrey Sharpe, who has taught Bible and religion courses at the college level. "I think he's got a valid argument. There are caveats, of course, but it's a valid argument. You can't build a biblical case for total abstinence from alcohol or any other substance, really. The Bible talks about moderation."
Simpson himself acknowledges this.
"Scripture stresses respect for our neighbor's liberty and conscience, moderation for all and abstinence for some," he said. "Should we be concerned for our friends and neighbors who abuse a substance or activity? Yes, we should help them through sincere and voluntary engagement, but not with force and violence."
Still, Lauren Barnes, of Next Step Community Solutions and the East Texas Substance Abuse Coalition, said decriminalizing marijuana would be a bad idea.
"It's time to talk about a serious issue: the effects of marijuana legalization on youth," she said. "When you increase access to marijuana, even though it's only legal for those 21 and older in states where it's legal, youth access is going to increase."
The stats back her up. Colorado saw a 26 percent increase in youth marijuana use following legalization.
"A Colorado state panel that was set up to review the health effects of marijuana warned citizens about the dangers of marijuana use during adolescence and young adulthood, according to a time.com article," she said. "The article notes that youth marijuana use is associated with higher future risk of using other drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine. Also, marijuana use by teens is also associated with decreased school performance and memory impairments that last as long as 28 days after use."
Despite opposition from some, a rally for legalization will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday on the T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza in downtown Tyler.
"The end goal is to get it decriminalized," said organizer Joel Gardner, who has run as a Libertarian candidate for the Texas House. "We have too many people in jail and I think it's absolutely ridiculous."
He agrees with Simpson's argument that marijuana legalization is a godly goal.
"I've made that same argument," he said. "People get indoctrinated by government-run schools to think that legal equals moral. That's not true; obviously, slavery was legal. And it's immoral to arrest people for marijuana."
Simpson's bill is HB 2165.