Delegates at the Republican Party of Texas convention voted to approve platform planks endorsing marijuana decriminalization, medical cannabis and industrial hemp. They are also calling for a change in cannabis's classification by the federal government.
"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," reads one of the party's new positions.
"Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1," says another.
A third asks lawmakers to expand an existing state law that provides patients with limited access to low-THC medical cannabis extracts so that doctors can "determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients."
And a fourth says industrial hemp is a "a valuable agricultural commodity."
That the official GOP organ in a red state like Texas would voice support for such far-reaching cannabis reforms is the latest sign of how mainstream marijuana has become in American politics.
Earlier this month, President Trump voiced support for pending bipartisan congressional legislation to let states implement their own marijuana legalization laws without federal interference. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is shepherding hemp legalization legislation to passage, with the support of Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
The Democratic Party of New York endorsed legalizing marijuana at its convention last month.
"Texas Republicans, like the majority of Americans, are ready to see more sensible marijuana policies enacted," Heather Fazio, coalition coordinator for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in an interview. "Our state wastes valuable criminal justice resources arresting between 60,000-70,000 Texans annually. Delegates took a stand this week for a better approach."
"While it would be preferable for cannabis to be de-scheduled entirely, this call by the Texas GOP signifies a very positive shift in opinion. Outright prohibition is not working and Texas Republicans want to see Congress take action to make cannabis more accessible."
The new planks cleared a multi-step process at the party convention—including testimony before and approval by two committees earlier this week—leading up to Saturday's vote by nearly 10,000 delegates.
Supporting marijuana decriminalization, federal cannabis rescheduling and industrial hemp is now the official position of the Republican Party of Texas.
Under current state law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,000.
Lawmakers legalized medical use of low-THC medical cannabis extracts in 2015. During last year's legislative session, bills to provide more comprehensive medical cannabis access and to decriminalize marijuana got record support from lawmakers and advanced in committees, but the clock on the legislative session ran out before floor votes could occur.
Cannabis reform activists hope that the new official GOP endorsement will provide a boost leading into the next session, which begins in January.
"Under the current [medical cannabis] program, most patients are being left behind," Fazio said. "Texas conservatives are seeing the value of medical cannabis and want to see more inclusive access. Now we will take this to the Legislature for action during the 2019 legislative session."
At the party event, there were four cannabis-focused booths at which delegates could get information about the issue (three from supporters and one from an opposition group), marking the first year that marijuana organizations had a presence in the convention expo area, according to Fazio.
During a floor debate on platform planks, one delegate moved to narrow the endorsement for hemp to cover support only "for the express purpose of non-consumable products," but that was defeated by the convention.
An earlier party platform, approved in 2016, contains a similar medical cannabis expansion plank (as well as a hemp one), but nothing on federal rescheduling or decriminalizing marijuana.
The party's new endorsement comes amid a contentious and close U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R) who opposes legalization but has voiced support for respecting state cannabis laws, and Congressman Beto O'Rourke (D), who has long supported legalizing marijuana outright.
Meanwhile, a powerful Texas Republican, Rep. Pete Sessions, has used his perch as chairman of the House Rules Committee to block floor votes on cannabis issues in Congress over the past several years. His bid to be reelected in November is considered a toss up by the Cook Political Report.
Texas Democrats hold their convention next week. The party's current platform as adopted in 2016 supports decriminalizing marijuana and further legalizing and regulating its "use, cultivation, production, and sale as is done with tobacco and alcohol."