The Dallas Morning News
No grass at cannabis conference, but attendees still seeing green
Legalization’s coming, they say, and so are the potential opportunities
FORT WORTH — There was a day when you’d have been considered under the influence to think that Texas might ever legalize marijuana.
But this weekend, an event dedicated to that very notion drifted into the Fort Worth Convention Center.
Some came to the Southwest Cannabis Conference and Expo to advocate for marijuana’s medicinal use, while others sought business opportunities — from hemp-seed products and smoking paraphernalia to Uncle Bubba’s Cann-A-Chili.
But they all shared a com- mon focus: being ready for when — not if — Texas chooses to legalize the drug, rather than pursuing opportunities elsewhere.
In other words, the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side anymore.
“It’s going to be the next Internet,” said San Antonio attorney Daniel Mehler, a former Colorado resident who wore a marijuana-leaf-patterned suit. “Texas needs to be ready. The ‘Green Rush’ is going to happen.”
Organizers of the “natural health-wellness and alternative convention” said they expected between 4,000 and 6,000 attendees Saturday and Sunday, including industry reformers and entrepreneurs.
Celebrity advocates were also on hand: Keynote speaker Montel Williams was sched- uled to speak Sunday, while former NFL stars Ricky Williams and Jim McMahon will be among the panelists for “Cannabis and Athletics,” presented by the Gridiron Cannabis Coali- tion.
But the man most people wanted a picture with Saturday was Aaron Gutknecht, a statistics instructor at Tarrant County College and the man inside the green Big Bud mascot outfit.
“Statistics is my greatest weapon” in the fight to legalize marijuana, he said, particularly for medicinal use. “We at least need to get it to the people that need it.”
Penalties for marijuana possession in Texas remain harsh. Even a drop of concentrate can lead to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, said Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, the Austin-based chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
But last month in Dallas, the majority of the City Council backed a six-month pilot pro- gram that would allow police to ticket people caught with marijuana instead of arresting them.
Under the “cite and release” program, officers would not jail the suspect, though his or her ultimate punishment would be decided by a judge.
But half-measures aren’t enough for advocates like Romana Harrison of the Patient Alliance for Cannabis Therapeutics. She said the group hopes to collect empty pill bottles from 1,000 military veterans by Veterans Day to urge Gov. Greg Abbott to consider legislation supporting medical marijuana.
“The Legislature told us vets would be the key,” Harrison said. “It’s hard to look at a threeterm Iraqi vet and call him a slacker for using pot.”