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05.09.15 7:19 PM ET

Tea Party Texas State Rep: God Wants You To Have Weed

Texas State Rep. David Simpson wants to remove all references to marijuana from the state’s legal code. And he quotes scripture to back him up.

There was a lot of excitement and headlines earlier this week decrying the great conservative state of Texas’ “milestone moment” in edging closer to legalizing pot statewide, a level of hype that some, such as our own correspondent here at the Daily Beast, were quick to downplay. What did happen is that House Bill 2165, which seeks to remove all mention of marijuana from the state criminal code, cleared a hurdle no one thought it could by passing a committee vote. Even more surprising is the author of the bill, a staunch Tea Party member and Christian, Republican State David Simpson, R-Longview, who feels as though he is bringing not only the conservative but also the evangelical argument for total legalization of cannabis. 

The bill, having cleared this first hurdle, must now go before the calendars committee, which is responsible for actually scheduling it for debate on the floor. In its favor is the somewhat shocking—to everyone involved—yea vote from fellow Republican Todd Hunter, who also happens to be the chairman of said calendars committee. If all goes smoothly, HB2165 could make it to the floor as soon as June. But even if all is well there, it would still have to navigate and pass a vote by the entire Senate, so there’s a long road ahead. We caught up with Rep. Simpson to hear him out on legalization and why he’s decided to buck party and, in many ways, religious lines to end pot prohibition.

 What initially brought your attention to the fight to legalize marijuana in Texas?

I’ve felt these convictions for a long time, but because of the stigma it has—or had for a long time, I think that that’s changed to some degree—I’ve not advocated it. I have numerous constituents who did come to me during the interim pleading for responsible use of the plant. One family in particular, very wealthy, did everything they could to help their daughter. Spent lots of money on all the pharmaceutical drugs, to their daughter’s detriment. Then in desperation they went to Colorado. And their daughter, who had been having 20–30 seizures a day, had none for nearly three weeks. So they came to me and said, “Hey, we’re faced with either becoming criminals and bringing this stuff back to Texas, or uprooting our family, losing our clientele, and moving to Colorado or some other state.” And not everyone has those means. I have another, a firefighter in a small Texas town (details omitted to maintain anonymity), with a 6-year-old son that’s taking 20+ medicines a day at great expense and leaving him very lethargic and hurting his liver, and he’s wanting to go up to Colorado [as well]. 

So that’s medical use, but you’re advocating removal of all mention of marijuana from the laws of Texas, right? Full legalization. Which means recreational use, too.

Yes, but I’m doing it for a medical purpose. I don’t want to create a bureaucracy-expanding license and registration… Conservatives are opposed to federal intrusion on health care, and this would be a state intrusion if we did that. I just don’t want to expand government, and I studied how to do it, and the only way is to just remove the offenses and allow people to be free to use it responsibly. And if we differ with someone who uses it in a way we disagree with, we should respect that, and only oppose it when they harm their neighbor. And we have other laws to deal with that. 

When someone eats too much, we don’t criminalize it. But it harms their body, and harms the healthcare system, and puts a burden on everybody. And people get drunk, but we don’t criminalize it unless they pose a threat to the public or they’re harming someone. If they’re addicted to it, either food or whatever, we don’t criminalize it. We try to help them. Give ’em the Gospel. Take ’em to church. But don’t put ’em in prison.

Speaking of church, part of your argument is marijuana is a plant, it comes from God, and man doesn’t have the right to regulate it.

I said that really to address my fellow Christians. Timothy 4:4 says, “everything God created is good, and nothing can be refused if it can be received for Thanksgiving.” Now that doesn’t mean everyone should use it, it doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Rattlesnakes are dangerous, but we eat ’em for meat. And some people, you know, they eat other rodents. But we don’t ban them. We don’t seek to eliminate them. We recognize that there’s a place in the economy for it.

Here in the Capitol, when we’re in session in January, they play with them. To me, I think that might be irresponsible. I wouldn’t do it, and I wouldn’t allow my family to do it.

Wait, they play with what? With rattlesnakes?

Oh yeah. When it’s cold and they’re lethargic.

You got some last minute support for the bill that you weren’t expecting, from fellow Republican Todd Hunter.

Well, I’ve had support for just this one time, I guess. A lot of people are scared of the political repercussions. But I think the debate has changed some, people are readily recognizing the medical use, and they also recognize that we shouldn’t be incarcerating people. I think where we need to move forward is we need to completely separate this from criminals. And the only way to do that is with my bill. 

Because even if it’s decriminalized or just medicinal, it may be coming from criminals and impure or diluted. If we give it to a free market we’ll know where it’s coming form, and if it has a good reputation. And we’ll let the market take care of it. We don’t need government to regulate a plant.

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How is your party taking this politically? It probably hasn’t made you too popular with the higher ups in the Republican Party.

Well, I don’t worry about that. And I’m not sure.  We’ve got the Young Republicans who came out in favor not only for decriminalization, but a majority for my bill. I had eight town halls after I introduced the bill in my district in an attempt to explain it, and I gave cards to everyone who attended. I had over 500 people come, and two thirds of the people who responded, responded favorably for the bill. That was more than I expected. I do think there’s a majority. And even those that disagree with me, they respect me for bringing it forward.

Now, there’s some folks who won’t vote for me ever again, but I’m called to be leader, and this is what I think is needed, recognizing the failure of the war on drugs. Freedom doesn’t mean there won’t be a responsibility, but if you lead people to the choices, usually they’re self-correcting if you make a bad choice.

So I have to ask, have you ever smoked pot?

No, I haven’t. I’ve never touched it, to my knowledge.