Texas Regional Advocacy Training Tours 2015-2017
By Jax Finkel, Executive Director for Texas NORML
(Written for a blog post for National NORML)
The only way to change marijuana laws in Texas is through the legislature. Therefore, we are fully reliant on our elected State Representative and State Senators, making constituent advocacy the most critical tool we have as a grassroots movement. The Texas House of Representatives and Senate meet every two years for approximately 140 days. It is an intense process, over 7,000 bills are filed on average per legislative session. In 2015, Texas passed a very limited low-THC/ high-CBD medical cannabis oil program for Texans with intractable epilepsy called the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP). With this small step forward for patients and a huge groundswell of support for removing the criminal penalties for possession of cannabis, Texas NORML thought about the long game, about the most effective way to put pressure on the legislature, activate citizens and prepare for even more progress in 2017.
In the past decade, Texas NORML had a focus on activist training, innovating the first cannabis-centric voter guide, leading lobby days and more. These events helped set the stage for change. So with the institutional knowledge and experience of Texas NORML and the amplification of a broad 27 organization coalition, we started a 3 year plan at the end of the 84R Legislative Session in 2015 through the end of the 85R Legislative Session in June 2017. There were several reasons a plan of this magnitude was needed:
- Texans are reliant on elected state legislators
- Texas Senate and House DIstricts are gerrymandered, making primaries the election that matters
- More Texas Legislators needed to have the support of their parties and constituents to feel comfortable moving forward with comprehensive cannabis law reform
- Many Texas patients were left behind by TCUP do not have more time to wait for safe access
- In that time, an estimated 210,000 citizens would be criminalized for possession of a plant and saddled with collateral consequences for the rest of their lives
For these reasons Texas NORML decided that moving forward we would work closely with the coalition to take the necessary steps to take our movement to the next level. Heather Fazio, Texas Political Director for Marijuana Policy Project and I teamed up on behalf of our coalition, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy (TRMP), to create a curriculum that would lay the foundation for greater direct action in the 85R Legislative Session. We then took this curriculum and content and traveled across Texas to engage with local advocates, officials and coalition partners. We teamed up with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to have guest speakers at these events. In total, we completed 16 trainings in 2 years.
To have a true effect on the system, advocates needed to understand it and how to work it to our advantages. In our first round of trainings in 2015, we focused on:
- Register Yourself and Others to Vote
- Confidently Communicate with Your Legislators
- Primary Election Opportunities (Volunteering, Town Hall Events, etc.)
- Becoming a Delegate to State Party
- Messaging / Effective Arguments and Goals
Each of these trainings brought media attention, keeping positive coverage in the news and affecting public opinion. Additionally, activists were able to change the Texas GOP Platform to include a plank regarding medical cannabis. This was a huge win for the movement with the plank passing by 78%!
In our second round of trainings in 2016, we also included:
- Successes/Lessons Learned Last Session
- Current Marijuana Policies in Texas
- Meeting with Legislators
- Speaking to the Media
- Release of our 2016 Marijuana Policy – Voter Guide
- Community Forum on Marijuana Policy with Texas Representative Joe Moody, Texas Senator Jose Rodriguez and Congressman Beto O’Rourke
We finished out the second round of trainings by holding our last Regional Advocacy Training in the Texas State Capitol. We had legislative staffers come to speak about the bills their legislator prefiled regarding whole plant, comprehensive medical cannabis and the reduction of penalties, as well as messaging regarding these bills. We also conducted training on:
- Review the Legislative Process
- Hearing Process and Preparing Your Testimony
- How to Engage With Legislators
- Tracking legislation
Traveling across Texas has allowed us to engage with and empower citizen that we would never have met otherwise, to work directly with our sister chapters in organizing the event and keep the issue in the news and the minds of Texans. We have seen extremely positive results from these trainings as the grassroots movement is self-organizing together and working on strategy together.
As we move forward with our timeline during the 85R Legislative Session, if is extremely important to be engaged! Sign up for our eNewsletter, make sure you get targeted action alerts, become a member, sustaining donor, one time donor and follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+, YouTube)
Be a part of history and help end cannabis prohibition in Texas!