Texas GOPer's Surprise: God Didn't Make a Mistake When He Made Marijuana, So Legalize It

Texas Republican and State Rep. David Simpson believes that it is an inappropriate use of government power to arrest people for their use of cannabis – so much so he has pre-filed legislation repealing marijuana-related offenses from the Texas criminal code.

House Bill 2165 is noteworthy for its simplicity; it removes references to marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia offenses from the criminal statute. 

“Nearly a century ago, the Texas legislature made a mistake in judgment based on misinformation and unfortunate motivations, Rep. Simpson said in letter to lawmakers urging them to co-sponsor his legislation. “Due to this mistake a relatively benign plant was made illegal to grow, possess, and sell in Texas.”

Passage of Rep. Simpson’s bill would end each of these marijuana-related prosecutions in the Lone Star State. “Repealing prohibition of the plant will result in savings of millions of dollars currently being spent in the name of the war on drugs,” Simpson said. “[It] will end the destruction and disruption of thousands of lives caused by the heavy penalties for those who use the plant, and will restore freedom and dignity to all Texans.”

But House Bill 2165 isn’t just noteworthy because of its language or intent. It’s also newsworthy because of its sponsor. He is a devout Christian conservative. Yet, it is the lawmaker’s spiritual faith and belief in limited government that is leading him to call for an end to cannabis criminalization.

“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” he wrote in a recent op/ed entitled “The Christian case for drug law reform.”

He adds, “Should we be concerned for our friends and neighbors who abuse a substance or activity? Yes, we should help them through sincere and voluntary engagement, but not with force and violence. … Civil government should value everything God made and leave people alone unless they meddle with their neighbor.”

While passage of HB 2165 is a long-shot for sure, its intended purpose is arguably to stimulate a discussion among Texas lawmakers. And it already has. Media coverage of Rep. Simpson’s stance has not only received statewide attention, but national attention

In Texas, the conversation is long overdue. A review of state-by-state marijuana possession arrest data by the ACLU reports that some 75,000 Texans are arrested annually for pot possession violations – the second highest total of any state in the nation. 

“Prohibition has encouraged countless steps away from the freedom, dignity, and sanctity of the individual and their home in the name of prohibiting this simple plant,” Rep. Simpson says. “We can’t fix all of the past wrongs caused by prohibition, but at least we can stop perpetuating them.”

Will Rep. Simpson’s Christian conservative arguments gain traction in a state long known for its tough-on-pot stance and Republican stripes? Perhaps. A 2013 statewide Public Policy Polling survey reported higher than expected levels of public support for marijuana policy reform — with over 60 percent of Texans endorsing decriminalizing pot possession offenses (Separate legislation to enact this change has also been filed in the Texas House of Representatives) and 58 percent approving of legalizing and regulating the plant’s retail production and sale. Moreover, a new Pew Research poll reports that younger, self-identified Republicans are strong supporters of legalizing pot. Strong majorities of older Republicans, however, are still largely in favor of prohibiting the plant.

Texas is one of nearly 20 US states -- including Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island debating marijuana legalization legislation this year.

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Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

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