State Rep. David Simpson stepped out of his district Saturday to stir up a tempest in Titus County.
Simpson led two town hall meetings in Mount Pleasant Saturday to talk about the bills he’s introduced this legislative session, spending most of the meetings discussing the bill he filed, House Bill 2165, which would repeal all marijuana prohibitions from Texas statutes.
Simpson represents Gregg and Upshur Counties in District 7.
About 50 people, from 20- to 80-something gathered at Herschel’s Restaurant Saturday afternoon to hear Simpson and be heard by him. For the better part of that two-hour meeting, the spirited exchange among the crowd took on the force of a windstorm, mostly over the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.
Simpson called his afternoon in Mount Pleasant the “most passionate” of the town hall meetings he’s held over the past two weekends to check the pulse of East Texans on House Bill 2165; HB 3171 repealing civil asset forfeiture; HB 1199 applying the Deceptive Trade Practices Act to synthetic drugs; HB 1200 establishing civil liability for synthetic drugs; and 15 other bills he’s pushing in this session of the state Legislature.
Simpson said Monday he was encouraged by the response he has received across East Texas so far.
“I am encouraged that even though marijuana has had a stigma, the debate over legalizing it has moved it forward.”
“Nothing like filing a bill where you are either loved or hated,” Simpson said Saturday of HB 2165.
The crowd at Herschel’s did not disappoint on that respect, though the love or hate seemed to be directed, not at Simpson, but HB 2165 and/or the plant the bill addressed.
Simpson on Monday described his town hall meeting at Northeast Texas Community College Saturday evening as “sparsely attended” by only about a dozen people.
He said the weather had canceled student athletics and there weren’t many students on campus. He noted that NTCC President Dr. Brad Johnson was at the meeting and several teachers. He said he hopes to schedule another meeting there perhaps in the fall.
Johnson said Monday he appreciated the town hall meeting.
“I think it is always good when people have the chance to hear, in some detail, the thinking behind significant legislative proposals.” Johnson said.
He said the meeting gave him and others the opportunity to better understand the challenges the present drug policies present.
“I’m not sure yet what I think about the matter (legalizing marijuana,) but I certainly understand the situation better as a result of the time the representative took to share his thoughts,” Johnson said.
Several times, Saturday afternoon, Simpson stepped forward to calm that crowd’s heated discussion on HB 2165 that escalated around him, and often without him.
“This is emotional, passionate and good, but we still must show respect to one another,” he said, his quiet voice hardly carrying above the angry chorus of comments the crowd hurled across the room at each other.
Simpson said, “HB 2165 repeals all offenses related to marijuana in Texas statues. It ends the prohibition: You can possess it, grow it, sell it, use it.”
“Marijuana is a plant,” he said. “The bill ends fines, incarceration of people who simply use the plant but have not harmed their neighbor; disassociates the plant from criminal activity and allows the plant to be used responsibly.”
Simpson quoted scripture during much of his talk on HB 2165.
“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake that government needs to fix,” he said.
He equated marijuana to wine and food, saying God made them all to be used responsibly.
Simpson leaned heavily on clearing the way for medicinal use of marijuana to help people suffering from seizures, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“That’s why I filed this bill,” he said.
No one Saturday voiced disagreement with the medicinal aspect of repealing prohibition.
“What my bill does not do is create a state level FDA or state level ATF,” he said.
“My bill does not create a registry like (Senator Kevin) Eltife’s and (Rep. Stephanie) Klick’s bill does.” Simpson said.
“That is the crux of my bill. It is a medical marijuana bill, not a thick government bill. I believe this is the Republican way for personal responsibility to move forward with drug lord reform.”
“I think it is an easier decision and less risky to legalize a plant that God made and to use it responsibly. This is a new approach. It is a limited government approach,” Simpson said.
“Everything God created is good and not to be refused, but received with thanksgiving,” Simpson said, quoting from the Bible, 1 Timothy 4:4.
“Obesity is a much bigger problem in this country than marijuana,” Simpson said.
“I don’t think we should be overly righteous as Ecclesiastes talks about. This is an individual liberty approach. “
Simpson referred to Proverbs 3, which calls for sound judgment and, Simpson paraphrased, “Do not accuse or withhold liberty from your neighbor for no reason when he has done you no harm.”
He said the determining factor in any prohibition regarding marijuana would be if someone was doing harm.
“If there’s one thing we can all agree on,” Simpson said, “it’s that the war on drugs is failing.”
But this bill,” he said, “will basically put a beachhead on ending the war on drugs.”
Simpson said HB 2165 would allow law enforcement to concentrate on violent crime.
“We are the biggest jailer on the planet,” he said. “It’s a big industry and the top five lobbyists against this bill are the prisons, the prison guards, the pharmaceutical companies, beer and alcohol companies and law enforcement – all have a vested interest.
“We spend $25 million a year on the war on drugs and the irresponsible people still use. But it has stopped the responsible people who have PTSD and medical reasons for using it,” he said
We are destroying families with heavy penalties put on simple use of the plant,” Simpson said. “We don’t want to incarcerate generation after generation.”
He said HB 2165 would not affect the laws that criminalize driving impaired.
Another hot topic of discussion Saturday afternoon was Simpson’s bill to repeal civil asset forfeiture.
Several in the crowd spoke in favor of the repeal.
“My bill (HB 3171) requires a criminal conviction.” Simpson said, “You should have to show a conviction before the law can take someone’s property.”
Civil asset forfeiture is the process by which the state may confiscate assets of an individual that are alleged to be proceeds or instruments of crime.
The Texas Code of Criminal Procedure calls for such property to be seized even if the property owner is never charged or convicted, and does not provide for the property to be returned.
Saturday afternoon, Titus County bail bondsman J. T. Brison was one of the first to take the floor when Simpson invited his audience to share their views.
Brison said he was for using marijuana for medical purposes, but that should be addressed separately.
“I am a bail bondsman. I cover nine counties. I deal with a lot of people, the majority of what I deal with is drug-related,” he said.
“We’ve got to put a stop to this, but this is not the way to do it.”
Brison said the market worked on supply and demand and if people stopped using the drug, that would cut off the demand.
“The drug dealers have to be stopped,” he said, “and this is going to cost me to stand up here and say this.”
Brison suggested the fine for first-time use of marijuana be raised, from an average of about $500 to $3,000.
The crowd applauded Brison’s remarks.
Nigel Christopher said the bill was a surprise to him, “but one of the nicest surprises I’ve had in years.” He lauded Simpson for his boldness in filing the bill.
“I strongly support everything you are doing. It takes considerable courage to do this, file this bill,” Christopher said.
Elmer Patton said he was 82 years old and he was opposed to legalizing marijuana.
“I don’t want to live in a culture or my family to have to live in a culture of marijuana users,” he said.
Patton also received applause.
Bill Preifert questioned Simpson on his faith and political stance.
Simpson answered that he was a Constitutionalist and a Christian libertarian.
Preifert said, “Because of marijuana, and crime and our laws, we’ve got grandmas raising most of these potheads’ kids.”
“I am an employer of 850 employees,” he said. “I drug test and I’m going to keep on drug testing. I don’t want my people around those people. The next step is you are going to take my right to test away.”
When Simpson said, “I am not going to take away your right to test for anything,” Priefert said, “The Democrats will.”
Simpson said marijuana shows up in the system for a long time, but there’s no test for synthetic marijuana.
Steven Johnson and Lydia Echerd spoke for the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana and the medical benefits.
Three men touted the pleasure of smoking marijuana; two said they had smoked it every day working, and one of them said he was in his 50s and had smoked it since he was 14.
Titus County Commissioner Al Riddle left the meeting Saturday afternoon commenting that, as an employer, he didn’t feel good about HB 2165.
Simpson’s schedule over the past two weeks has also listed town hall meetings in Gilmer, Judson, Longview, Kilgore, Pittsburg and Gladewater.
He said Monday about 85-90 percent of the people attending his town hall meetings have shown support for HB 2165.