Texas has some of the country’s strictest laws against marijuana — and they date back nearly 100 years. But new polls show growing support across the state to legalize marijuana use. This weekend, drug reform advocates are gathering in Dallas for the first major drug policy conference of 2014, hosted by Mothers Against Teen Violence. Shaun McAlister says he’s always been a “fan of the herb,” but he’s not about to give up the legalization fight and move to Colorado or Washington, states that allow recreational marijuana sales. “Like hell I’m abandoning Texas,” says McAlister, 29, a Fort Worth native. “I don’t want to move away to be more free. That’s silly to me.” McAlister runs DFW NORML, the North Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He talked an Arlington pub he says is “friendly to the cause.” It’s filled with people smoking … cigarettes. That’s because in Texas, possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can land you in jail for up to six months and set you back $2,000. “It’s time for a change,” McAlister says. “We never had a realistic basis for prohibiting the substance to begin with.”
It all goes back to El Paso To understand why marijuana is illegal in Texas, we have to go back 100 years, to the border city of El Paso. At the time, you could buy cannabis over the counter, and even order it by mail. But there was a growing fear in both Mexico and the United States that the drug turned people violent. That fear seemed to became reality in Mexico on New Year’s Day 1913.
“Supposedly this guy who was smoking marijuana all day goes on this rampage through the streets of Juarez,” Isaac Campos says. “He supposedly runs down the street with a knife, chases American tourists, stabbed some horses, killed a policeman.” Campos, associate professor of history at the University of Cincinnati, and author of “Home Grown: Marijuana and the Origins of Mexico’s War on Drugs,” says reports of the Juarez rampage reached the deputy sheriff in El Paso, a man named Stanley Good. “[Good] gets obsessed with the issue and goes on this campaign to get an ordinance in El Paso banning it,” Campos said. He says prejudice against marijuana was especially intense in Texas because the drug was associated with Mexicans – despite the fact that most Mexicans feared the drug. “It’s not that Mexicans come across the border smoking a lot of marijuana, and then people gain prejudice against marijuana,” Campos says. It’s that “Mexican immigrants come across and people are prejudiced against the immigrants and that further fuels their anti-marijuana prejudice.” Drug reform advocates say the fears that led to the first law banning marijuana in Texas nearly 100 years ago are still behind drug policy today.
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