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Austin City Council Calls for Legalizing Medical Marijuana
Medical marijuana sold at a now shuttered dispensary in Long Beach, CA called the Dank Depot

The Austin City Council is calling on the Texas legislature to legalize medical marijuana. The council passed this resolution Thursday, sponsored by council members Bill Spelman and Mike Martinez, who's running for mayor. The resolution calls for the city to change its state legislative agenda to include support for "legislation to legalize the use of medical marijuana."

It's mostly a symbolic measure, but it's an important one, according to Nathan Jones, a drug policy researcher at Rice University's Baker Institute.

"They're getting elite legitimacy," Jones says of medical marijuana activists. "They're starting with city councils, but once you get enough local level support, that puts more pressure, and it also signals to those who would be in favor anyway but don't want to take a stand on the issue, that it's safe to take a stand in favor."

Even small steps towards legalizing medical marijuana in Texas have gone nowhere. A bill that State Representative Elliott Naishtat proposed in the last legislative session died in committee. House Bill 594 would have provided a medical defense for people busted for marijuana possession, and it would have prevented doctors from being punished for suggesting their patients might benefit from medical marijuana. 

The measure was considered an incremental step toward medical marijuana legalization, because the patient would still be required to go to court and defend herself under the statute. For contrast, 22 states and the District of Columbia have removed criminal punishments for medical marijuana and allowed for some way to access it, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.  

A February poll by the University of the Texas and Texas Tribune found only 23 percentof Texans opposed legalizing medical marijuana. Almost half of respondents, 49 percent, would legalize marijuana for any purpose, although there was disagreement over which quantities should be permissible. 

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on Twitter @KUTnathan.
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