4/20 Rally at Governor’s Mansion Calls for Marijuana Decriminalization
By Kevin Malcolm Jr.
Marijuana advocates waved flags and smoked weed outside of the Texas Governor’s Mansion on 4/20, a day known as a holiday for celebrating marijuana, to call for further decriminalization of the drug.
“We can help, you know, liberate people who are in prison for nonviolent crime,” said Colin Kerrigan, a civil engineering student at the University of Texas at Austin.
Under current state laws, marijuana is legal only for medical use, and simply possessing the drug is punishable by 180 days to 99 years in prison.
Wednesday’s small but passionate crowd was at times outnumbered by the media and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers. But officers had virtually no interactions with the demonstrators and did not arrest or cite anyone.
Marijuana and law enforcement have gone hand in hand since Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937 which regulated the sale, cultivation and possession of marijuana. Laws tightened across the United States for the rest of the century before loosening in many places over the past decade.
“We’re not talking about methamphetamines; we’re talking about marijuana,” said a rally participant who identified herself only as Lemonhead and said she was visiting Austin from Seattle, where marijuana is legal for recreational use by adults. “It’s weed. It’s an herb.”
Numerous people in attendance wanted more than the legalization of marijuana; they wanted to see a change in the system that sees people spend significant time in jail for weed.
Kerrigan, the UT student, said he hoped that Texas lawmakers would make an appearance at the rally so they could get a better understanding of how marijuana is not a harmful substance but something that can actually help no matter which political party they align with.
He is from Massachusetts, where recreational marijuana use by adults is now legal. “I think people up there are kind of more educated about like, what the benefits are and stuff,” he said.
Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center have found that 60 percent of Americans support the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use while 8% say it should be fully illegal.
A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott said the Republican remains opposed to legalization, saying, “Abbott believes prison and jail is a place for dangerous criminals who may harm others, and possession of a small amount of marijuana is not the type of violation that we want to stockpile jails with.”
Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic challenger in November, has promised to legalize weed if he becomes governor.
The U.S. House recently passed the Marijuana Opportunities Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would decriminalize weed across the country expunge previous convictions. And on May 7, Austin voters will vote on Proposition A which would eliminate enforcement of low-level marijuana offenses and ban no-knock warrants by police.
“Maybe before I’m finally blowin’ in the wind, they’ll have recreational marijuana in Texas,” 69-year-old Austin resident Joe Pastusek said at Wednesday’s rally. “It would be, no pun intended, a pipe dream.”