There was a lot of excitement and headlines earlier thisweek decrying the great conservative state of Texas’ “milestone moment” inedging closer to legalizing pot statewide, a level of hype that some, such asour own correspondent here at the Daily Beast, were quickto downplay. What did happen is that HouseBill 2165, which seeks to remove all mention of marijuana from the statecriminal code, cleared a hurdle no one thought it could by passing a committeevote. Even more surprising is the author of the bill, a staunch Tea Partymember and Christian, Republican State David Simpson, R-Longview, who feels asthough he is bringing not only the conservative but also the evangelicalargument for total legalization of cannabis.
The bill, having cleared this first hurdle, must now gobefore the calendars committee, which is responsible for actually scheduling itfor debate on the floor. In its favor is the somewhat shocking—to everyoneinvolved—yea vote from fellow Republican Todd Hunter, who also happens to bethe chairman of said calendars committee. If all goes smoothly, HB2165 couldmake it to the floor as soon as June. But even if all is well there, it wouldstill have to navigate and pass a vote by the entire Senate, so there’s a longroad ahead. We caught up with Rep. Simpson to hear him out on legalization andwhy he’s decided to buck party and, in many ways, religious lines to end potprohibition.
What initiallybrought your attention to the fight to legalize marijuana in Texas?
I’ve felt these convictions for a long time, but because ofthe stigma it has—or had for a long time, I think that that’s changed to somedegree—I’ve not advocated it. I have numerous constituents who did come to meduring the interim pleading for responsible use of the plant. One family inparticular, very wealthy, did everything they could to help their daughter. Spentlots of money on all the pharmaceutical drugs, to their daughter’s detriment.Then in desperation they went to Colorado. And their daughter, who had beenhaving 20–30 seizures a day, had none for nearly three weeks. So they came tome and said, “Hey, we’re faced with either becoming criminals and bringing thisstuff back to Texas, or uprooting our family, losing our clientele, and movingto Colorado or some other state.” And not everyone has those means. I haveanother, a firefighter in a small Texas town (details omitted to maintainanonymity), with a 6-year-old son that’s taking 20+ medicines a day at greatexpense and leaving him very lethargic and hurting his liver, and he’s wantingto go up to Colorado [as well].
So that’s medicaluse, but you’re advocating removal of all mention of marijuana from the laws ofTexas, right? Full legalization. Which means recreational use, too.
Yes, but I’m doing it for a medical purpose. I don’t want tocreate a bureaucracy-expanding license and registration… Conservatives areopposed to federal intrusion on health care, and this would be a stateintrusion if we did that. I just don’t want to expand government, and I studiedhow to do it, and the only way is to just remove the offenses and allow people tobe free to use it responsibly. And if we differ with someone who uses it in away we disagree with, we should respect that, and only oppose it when they harmtheir neighbor. And we have other laws to deal with that.
When someone eats too much, we don’t criminalize it. But itharms their body, and harms the healthcare system, and puts a burden oneverybody. And people get drunk, but we don’t criminalize it unless they pose athreat 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 ’emthe 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 mandoesn’t have the right to regulate it.
I said that really to address my fellow Christians. Timothy4:4 says, “everything God created is good, and nothing can be refused if it canbe received for Thanksgiving.” Now that doesn’t mean everyone should use it, itdoesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Rattlesnakes are dangerous, but we eat ’em formeat. 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 theeconomy for it.
Here in the Capitol, when we’re in session in January, theyplay 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 withwhat? With rattlesnakes?
Oh yeah. When it’s cold and they’re lethargic.
You got some lastminute support for the bill that you weren’t expecting, from fellow RepublicanTodd Hunter.
Well, I’ve had support for just this one time, I guess. Alot of people are scared of the political repercussions. But I think the debatehas changed some, people are readily recognizing the medical use, and they alsorecognize that we shouldn’t be incarcerating people. I think where we need tomove forward is we need to completely separate this from criminals. And theonly way to do that is with my bill.
Because even if it’s decriminalized or just medicinal, itmay be coming from criminals and impure or diluted. If we give it to a freemarket we’ll know where it’s coming form, and if it has a good reputation. Andwe’ll let the market take care of it. We don’t need government to regulate aplant.
How is your partytaking this politically? It probably hasn’t made you too popular with thehigher 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 outin favor not only for decriminalization, but a majority for my bill. I hadeight town halls after I introduced the bill in my district in an attempt toexplain it, and I gave cards to everyone who attended. I had over 500 peoplecome, and two thirds of the people who responded, responded favorably for thebill. That was more than I expected. I do think there’s a majority. And eventhose 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, recognizingthe failure of the war on drugs. Freedom doesn’t mean there won’t be aresponsibility, but if you lead people to the choices, usually they’re self-correctingif 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.