Besides members of his staff, about 40 persons attended the two-hour event at the Yamboree Exhibit Building, some 15 of whom offered comments or asked questions on various issues. Of those who addressed the marijuana proposal, nine expressed or implied support for it while only two expressed opposition.
Although a few states, notably Colorado and Washington, have decriminalized marijuana, its use remains illegal under federal law.
Simpson, who said he has never touched marijuana, said he proposed House Bill 2165 partly because the drug has been shown to be effective for medical use and to “enable law enforcement to focus on violent crime.” He said “numerous constituents” want access to it to treat seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, etc.
He also said allowing the drug’s use only for medical purposes would expand bureaucracy, and that “we don’t need to expand government” for a natural plant.
“There’s no known lethal dose” of marijuana, and no “confirmed deaths” from it as there are from synthetic marijuana, Simpson added. He added he did not advocate its recreational use, although “It’s a plant that God made. We can use it responsibly, and we should.”
Unlike alcohol, he said, marijuana makes people “more careful.” And while acknowledging that it might be a “gateway” to using harder drugs, he asked whether that was due to its “chemical influence” or to the criminal element involved with getting the plant.
As for the possibility that using marijuana might cause fatal auto accidents, he said “driving impaired is illegal--period.”
“Criminal activity should be when you harm your neighbor--period,” he asserted.
Simpson also said the best regulatory scheme for keeping children away from the drug is parents, a remark which drew applause.
Only the first two citizens to speak, Gilmer Mayor R.D. (Buck) Cross and Terry Mogavero, expressed opposition to the bill. “I would be against legalizing the growing of marijuana,” said Cross, a former Upshur County sheriff and ex-state Department of Public Safety trooper who spoke very briefly.
He cited no reasons for his stance.
Mogavero, the founder of Warriors Against Synthetic Pot--East Texas, said she knew marijuana has medical benefits, but “needs to be regulated.” She said she did not want it “sold to my kids,” and that legalizing it is “opening ourselves up to a bigger problem.”
Sherri Little, a member of the Upshur County Libertarian Party which supports legal marijuana, said, “We will support this (bill) to the fullest.” She cited the “right to do what you will with your body,” and said there was no reason to prohibit “this natural plant.”
“I smoked it and I did inhale. It’s not for me because of the sedative effects,” Little said. “Overuse of it will probably make you lay in the bed all day long.”
Dr. Shaunna Mitchell, an osteopath, said veterans suffering from PTSD need marijuana. She said the drug does not lead to using heroin and that marijuana “is not what you have been told since you were born.”
The physician also said she had never seen anyone in the emergency room who had been in an auto accident caused by the drug.
Gregg County Commissioner Darryl Primo also indicated sympathy for Simpson’s bill, quoting Gregg County Sheriff Maxey Cerliano as saying 25 percent of the average of 800 daily jail prisoners in their county were there on marijuana charges. “It’s an enormous cost,” Primo said.
He drew applause when he asserted his sheriff’s office had enough equipment “to invade Cuba,” and that much of it had “to do this drug (enforcement) thing.”
A woman who identified herself as a registered pharmacist also expressed support for Simpson’s bill. She said it could help children with epilepsy, cancer patients, and those with PTSD.
Another woman said her adult daughter suffers from epilepsy, has undergone three brain surgeries, and “still suffers” although “we’ve tried everything.” She said that if marijuana could help her daughter, “I’m all for this” bill.
Earlier, Simpson said a wealthy Longview family had taken their daughter, who suffers 15-20 seizures daily, to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. When they went to Colorado, where state laws prohibiting marijuana were abolished, using the drug stopped her seizures for two weeks, he said.
Lewis Bishop was another saying he favored decriminalizing marijuana as “the War on Drugs is doing so much damage.”
He said the “bad guys” will not want to come to Texas for “big money” if the drug is legalized because “it won’t be so high-priced.”
Another speaker, who identified himself as a Marshall businessman, said that since he started using marijuana “gummy bears,” he quit drinking alcohol and “I don’t get mad anymore.” He told Simpson, “I’ll help you any way I can.”
Another man said he applauded Simpson’s courage, and asked the legislator what chance the bill has of passing since “it is an uphill fight.”
Simpson replied he hoped he could get the bill onto the House floor and that he had received “very little negative feedback” from fellow legislators, although one or two told him the legislature is “not ready for this.”
Sherry Breedlove, who is active in Upshur County Republican politics, also said she supported Simpson’s bill.
Asked whether he had consulted with prosecutors and law officers in his district (Gregg and Upshur counties), Simpson said most officers in his district opposed even medical marijuana, but that law enforcement agents have told him privately they support the bill. (Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd has called Simpson’s proposal “ridiculous.”)
Asked if he had checked on the effects of deregulating marijuana in Colorado and Washington, Simpson said he was monitoring it and that results thus far are “mixed.”