Why I am asking Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to do the right thing and embrace penalty reduction for possession of small amounts of marijuan

As a 91-year-old conservative Republican woman I have seen quite a lot in my long and blessed life. I am a widow of a marriage of 50 years, mother of five sons and a tireless advocate for cannabis reform.

Rooted in years of research and personal experience, I have long held the belief that the prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility and personal freedom. Because of this, in 2012 my husband Bob and I had the idea for Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, or RAMP.

Since 1970 my time has been dedicated to being both a leader and activist in the Republican Party. During that time, I have served as a local precinct chair for over 30 years. My first campaign activity came in 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater. In 1983, I co-founded the group Women for Reagan. Over the past 35 years I have participated as a state delegate to almost every Texas GOP convention.

I hope I’m alive to see the end of prohibition across the United States, but at the very least, I wish that Lt. Governor Dan Patrick would use his power and influence to right the wrong of a policy which has been damaging to so many individuals for too many years by simply reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of cannabis.

I used to be in his shoes. Raised in Louisiana to a Christian family, I thought marijuana was the devil’s weed and associated marijuana use with immorality. I fell hook, line and sinker for all the lies the government had put out about marijuana.

It wasn’t until 1990 that I recognized the very real medical benefit that cannabis offered. A workplace accident put my son Richard in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. Soon after, he stumbled upon research which showed marijuana as a possible relief for his severe nerve pain. Though I once believed marijuana to be a dangerous “gateway” drug, after a lot of research and believing Richard in how it helped him, Bob and I began to question the illegality of marijuana. We concluded that the plant was good medicine and ought to be legal. Beyond its medical value, the harm from prohibition clearly far outweighs any benefits.

Why Republicans continue enforcing this law like it was handed down from Moses is a mystery to me; when in fact it is a law that came about as part of FDR’s New Deal in 1937.

I grew up with a bad law that said whites and Blacks could not go to school together. Segregation and Jim Crow were bad laws and needed to be changed. Now we have the bad laws of the drug war, and it is just haunting because it has caused so much harm.

The main duty of RAMP is to show that prohibition is not conservative. If you are a true conservative, you cannot support prohibition. Prohibition is a symbol of the nanny state with the government telling you what you can and cannot do. Republicans do not need a safe space from marijuana, we need to lead on these reforms.

Law enforcement officers in Texas know that personal-use marijuana possession is a low priority. Therefore, Travis County, Dallas County and Harris County, along with others have instituted policies – led by law enforcement – to divert the low-level marijuana possessor from arrest. Our current policy is a costly one, in human costs and financially.

Some are worried that we will send the wrong message to our kids by reforming marijuana policy. However, in the many other states which have already stopped arresting low-level marijuana possessors, this has not led to an increase in youth-use rates of cannabis.

Republicans should not be afraid of marijuana. We saw in the last election that cannabis was more popular than any Republican or Democrat on the ballot. In November 2020, the voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota all overwhelmingly voted to legalize marijuana. Already in 2021, we have seen the state legislatures of New Mexico, New York and Virginia legalize adult-use cannabis. Many other states currently have reforms moving through their legislatures, and Congress is seriously considering ending federal marijuana prohibition.

The least that our great state of Texas could do is move forward with a penalty reduction bill for low-level possession of cannabis flower (HB 441) and concentrates (HB 2593). I know my late husband Bob would be proud of the work we have accomplished since his passing, including our ability to overwhelmingly pass this legislation out of the Texas House of Representatives in both 2019 and 2021; but I know he’d really crack a smile if Lt. Governor Dan Patrick were to move this legislation through the Senate and send it to Governor Abbott for his signature. This would finally be a step towards beginning to correct this failed policy which has damaged so many lives and allowed generations of Texans to have their property rights violated.

Ann Lee is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. RAMP is a growing body of Republicans that reject the big-government approach of marijuana prohibition in favor of personal liberty and responsibility.