Last week I visited my Texas Senator’s office to talk about the importance of marijuana legalization for the health and safety of our community. I had never been to my legislator’s office before. Unsure of exactly what would transpire at our meeting, I was a little afraid I would be badgered, ridiculed, or accused. But that didn’t happen. My Senator’s staff was interested and attentive, and her District Director discussed my concerns with me for nearly half an hour.
If you have never been to visit your local Senator or State Representative’s office, you are not alone. Most people haven’t. Hardly anybody even votes anymore. Only 9% of voters participate in the Texas primaries on average, and this election determines the candidates that will eventually run and take office. I have called myself an activist for nearly 8 years and I’m a little ashamed to admit it, but it has taken me this long to do one of the most effective and powerful things that a marijuana legalization activist can do: visit my legislator in person and ask how she feels about marijuana legalization.
Senator Wendy Davis’s office is located in a new building at the trendy heart of West 7th near downtown Fort Worth. Her office itself is small and unassuming. You might miss it as you step off the elevator, tucked away in a corner on the third floor with nothing more than a plaque on the wall announcing the office of an elected state official.
Inside, a staff member led me into a small conference room with a view of Trinity Park in front of the downtown skyline. I waited, straightening the stacks of literature I had brought with me. A couple months ago, Texas NORML offered bound color copies of an educational packet the group created to constituents who were willing to visit their elected officials and ask them to support legalization. The packet sums up the best reasons why marijuana should be legalized, for the reasons of medicinal use, responsible adult use, and as industrial hemp. Educated voters have been distributing these packets to their Senators and Representatives who are now currently meeting in a session that occurs only once every two years. To actually affect change in Texas marijuana laws, it is imperative that voters visit their legislators.
The Texas constitution does not allow for ballot initiatives, which is how Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana in 2012. The only way laws get passed in Texas is through our elected representatives. How else are they supposed to know what their constituents want if we don’t sit down face to face and tell them? A phone call is effective too, an email a little less so, but the best way to communicate with your legislator is by sitting down in front of them.
My experience with District Director Charles Boswell was positive. He listened to my concerns, and he took notes and asked questions. He was sympathetic. He shared the story of an acquaintance whose son had terminal cancer, and who wanted to use marijuana to ease his suffering, but was afraid of going through a shady drug dealer to get it. He was interested in the statistics I presented about the growing percentage of Texans who support legalization, and about just how much money we were wasting by locking up adults simply for possession.
I asked him to ask the Senator if she would be interested in sponsoring a senate version of HB 594, which Representative Eliot Naishtat recently introduced in the House. The bill would allow medical marijuana patients who had been arrested a medical defense in court, and which would provide protection to doctors to discuss marijuana use with patients. I will call back to the office this week to follow up on the results of my visit.
Because I prepared in a few simple ways, visiting my state Senator’s office was a great experience. I was allowed to articulate my concerns and I certainly wasn’t treated like a criminal. Here are the important things to do to make sure your visit goes just as well:
1)Make an appointment.
I called my senator’s office, identified myself as a voter, and said that I would like to make an appointment to talk about marijuana legalization. While it’s unlikely you will be able to meet directly with your representative, it should be fairly easy to set up a time to come in and speak with a staff member. I did it on my lunch break on a work day.
2)Research your legislator.
A quick search will tell you what issues your representative feels strongly about and positions they have taken in the past. Look for ways to relate your issue to something your legislator cares about. One of Senator Davis’s priorities is education. In 2011, she launched a filibuster to fight $4 billion in proposed school budget cuts (which were eventually approved). I made sure to highlight the millions of dollars in funds we could save by decriminalization, and the potential for bringing in additional money with marijuana’s taxation. If your legislator is big on border security, bring up the subject of Mexican border violence and how eliminating marijuana as a profit for the cartels would decrease the deadly violence that is going on right in our backyard.
3)Choose a few main points to master.
You don’t have to memorize every fact about marijuana and the history of its prohibition to have an effective conversation about why it should be legalized. Just focus on a few main points and solidify your knowledge in those areas. The educational material provided by NORML makes it easy to do this. Pick out the facts that interest you most, or that you might already be familiar with, and talk about those. Make a short list of bullet points to help remind you. There are so many valid reasons why marijuana should be legalized. Don’t get caught up trying to learn every single one of them. Just be sure of yourself in a few key areas.
This week, I’ll send an email to Mr. Boswell and ask him what Senator Davis thought about the information I presented. I’ll ask him if she had any questions, and I’ll ask him if she is willing to sponsor a senate version of Representative Naishtat’s medical defense bill.
To legalize marijuana in Texas, it is going to take each and every one of us to make an appointment with our elected officials and ask them to end marijuana prohibition. Our legislators are not going to support legislation unless they understand that it’s something most voters want. And they do—76% of Texans think medical marijuana should be legalized. That is a huge majority. But until more voters show up in their legislators’ offices, our lawmakers will not be convinced.
Enter your address here http://www.fyi.legis.state.tx.us/Home.asp to find out who your state legislators are. Call their offices and set up an appointment. You can email Leah@texasnorml.org for more information about obtaining an educational packet.
If you are interested in visiting with your lawmaker in person, on Tuesday, February 26, Texas NORML is sponsoring a lobby day in Austin. You can meet up with a bunch of other Texas activists, and volunteers will help you find your lawmaker’s office at the capitol so you can deliver educational information in person.