The latest Paranormal Activity movie may give you chills, but according to paranormal investigators, in reality, the risk of interacting with the unknown extends far beyond a few goosebumps.
An attempt to communicate with a spirit can be potentially dangerous if the right precautions are not taken. According to information provided by the Texas Paranormal Society, not all entities are hostile, but those that are can be potentially life threatening. Such spirits can cause physical harm, but they can also influence the mental and emotional stability of their victims.
“There are several types of hauntings. One is in the case of a trauma. Those energies just tend to stick around. In old homes, people live in that home for 60 years, that’s a lot of memories, and that energy gets imprinted in the location,” said Lydia Berestecky. Austin Leader of F.E.A.R. Paranormal Society.
The society provides a hub of information for paranormal investigators and free services to those experiencing a haunting.
There’s still a lot to explore in the spiritual realm, but investigators and spiritual “mediums,” have an imperative set of procedures they follow to ensure their safety and the safety of their clients.
“We first try to debunk the haunting and find a logical reason why the back door keeps shutting, or whatever,” Berestecky said.
Rachel Soso, Austin F.E.A.R. Paranormal Co-leader, said for residential cases, they conduct a preliminary interview where they get to know the history of the house, the people living there, and the nature of the paranormal activity.
“We look for patterns or significant events that are happening around a particular person. When we do decide that an investigation is warranted, that’s when we bring in the cameras and equipment,” Soso said.
They use instruments designed to read electromagnetic frequencies, which measure the level of spiritual activity at the location.
The investigation takes approximately one to four hours to complete, after which the clients are offered a solution such as a blessing or cleanse, depending on the severity of the haunting and the sensitivity of the client.
Paranormal investigators do not rely solely on technology to detect a spiritual presence, but their own innate intuition, Berestecky said.
“There are many types of abilities and we each have our own thing. We are both sensitive to energy, like a human EMF detector. We can go in a place and we can each see the place as it was back in its heyday, and we can sense other presences in the house,” Berestecky said.
Energy sensitivity can be helpful for paranormal mediums in completing their investigations, but their receptivity can render them vulnerable to darker energies.
The Texas Paranormal society advises investigators to employ practices such as White Light Meditation, holding talismans while working, weekly home energy cleansings, and most importantly, a respectful approach when communicating with the other side. However, complete protection cannot be guaranteed and mediums are always at risk of contact with darker beings.
“For some reason, the answer nobody knows, some spirits are stronger than others,” Berestecky said, “As far as good ghosts and bad ghosts, if you’re a jerk when you’re alive, you’ll be a jerk when you’re dead.”
By: Julia Farrell, Taylor Wiseman, Mariana Muños, Michelle Sanchez
History of Cat Cafés
Blue Cat Café is on a mission to provide Austin with coffee and cats. Although this is the first of its kind to open in Texas, cat cafes are becoming more popular across the nation. California, New York, and Pennsylvania are just a few of the states that have picked up on the trend in the past year. The idea of a “cat café” established the concept in Japan nearly 17 years ago.
For a light fee, customers can enjoy a meal while playing with some feline friends. The café houses a maximum of 25 cats at a time, all of which are shipped directly from the Austin Humane Society. That means that for each 25 cats housed by the café, 25 cages are opened up at AHS. Since its opening in July, the café continues to provide food and shelter for stray kittens.
“Most of the cats we get have never had a real home,” says Rebecca Gray, co-founder of the Blue Cat Café. “This is their first real glimpse at home life until they are adopted by a family.”
A typical day at the café begins at 7:00 a.m. The kittens are all lined up at the door, awaiting the arrival of humans. After being fed, the owners do a cat count every morning to ensure that none are sick, as a disease within the colony can spread quickly. By 9 a.m. customers are lined up at the door. Due to health policies, all of the food is prepared in a food truck outside of the café. The food is then brought inside, where customers can eat and drink coffee in the company of the cats.
Blue Cat Café is also an adoption agency. Not only can you play with the kittens, but you can also take one home. The adoption process is simple: just pick your kitty and pay a $50 fee, which covers the cost of food, toys, and a bed for your new pet. Adoption opens up space for new cats to be sheltered at the café, which in turn helps reduce the stray cat population in Austin.
“We’ve been averaging over an adoption a day,” says co-owner of Blue Cat Café Jacques Casimir.
“We’ve had four yesterday, so we’d be on pace at this point for more than 400 adoptions in a year.”
Austin’s feral cat population has spiked significantly in the past decade. Places like the Blue Cat Café help reduce the stray cat population by taking in kittens and caring for them until they are adopted. Casimir says that they receive cats from AHS on a daily basis, except for weekends.
AHS does not keep a census of the stray cat population in Austin due to the overwhelmingly large number. Mike Di Tullio, AHS’ feral cat program supervisor, says that the growing population is a large problem for the city. In 2007, the program began a free Tap-Neuter-Return program in an attempt to control the feral cat population. It involves volunteers locating stray cats and bringing them to the clinic so that they can be fixed. This way, when they are returned to the streets, they are not able to reproduce at such a quick rate. This is yet another way that the city is trying to curb the number of cats on the streets.
In the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you are right.” How true does this maxim ring for women in science, technology, engineering and math fields? At the University of Texas at Austin, the gender gap in each STEM major is evident, but the university is making strides to close that gap with support programs for women.
In the College of Natural Sciences at the university, 51 percent of undergraduates are women while 35 percent of graduates are women. In the Cockrell School of Engineering, 27 percent of undergraduates are women while 21 percent of graduates are women. In the mathematics Ph.D. program at UT, 32 percent of its members are women.
The above map shows the top 10 universities for women in STEM, based on resources and opportunities for women. Majority of the top schools are in the Northeast and West Coast.
Keely Finkelstein, an astronomy lecturer at UT Austin, said the astronomy department has recently developed a group called AWARE, The Association of Women in Astronomy Research and Education.
“One of the best things universities can do to increase women participation in STEM fields is to develop a support system,” Finkelstein said. “I think some departments have had that unofficially for years, but we’ve recently tried to have it as a formal group so there can be a safe space when you need it.”
AWARE was formed in September 2014, and it strives to increase female participation in STEM fields, fostering better working environments for all members, educating members of the STEM community and engaging members of the STEM community.
The lack of women enrollment in STEM in college starts with girls' experiences at a young age.
Alexandra Gibner, a computer science major at UT, said in order to close the gender gap, STEM interests need to be introduced at a young age.
“If computer science were taught earlier and more mandated, there would be less of a sense that “oh this isn’t for girls,” or “oh I wouldn’t be good at this,” Gibner said.
Just like Finkelstein, Gibner said she valued her support system.
“I do appreciate that the UT Women in CS student org will pair incoming freshman girls with mentors,” Giber said.
Margret Tombokun, an electrical engineering student at UT, said that mentors are very important and that she had to seek out her own mentors in college.
“I think the clearest disadvantage is the smaller number of female mentors, so I think it can be easier for female students to fall through the cracks,” Tumbokun said. “I tell [younger girls] that it’s probably going to be tough, but if they find something about it that they love or like enough to work at it, then they should go for it.”
By: Vanessa Pulido, Alex Wilts, Michael Baez, and Jessica Stovall
When Traci Kirby, a University of Texas nursing student, started experiencing vaginal irritations this summer, Planned Parenthood was not the place she thought she would get treatment.
Kirby had previously visited multiple health clinics to help solve her medical issue, but the doctors had all prescribed her antibiotics, which weren’t working.
“I got on the Internet and looked for different places and I found Planned Parenthood,” Kirby said. “I thought they only did abortions, so I was surprised to see that they actually have full women’s clinics. I went there, and it wasn’t expensive at all.”
According to Planned Parenthood, abortions represent only 3 percent of its services despite popular belief that it’s the only medical procedure the women’s health group offers.
On Oct. 19, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that Texas would end Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid enrollment following the release of controversial videos of group officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
“The State has determined that you and your Planned Parenthood affiliates are no longer capable of performing medical services in a professionally competent, safe, legal, and ethical manner,” said a letter addressed to state affiliates from the Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s Office of Inspector General.
According to the commission, Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas receive a sum of approximately $3 million to $4 million a year in Medicaid reimbursements through the state. U.S. law tightly restricts applying federal funding to abortions.
Kathleen Morgan, the former president of Texas Students for Life, a pro-life organization on UT’s campus, said she is happy Texas has cut the Medicaid contract since Planned Parenthood makes most of its money off of abortions.
“Usually abortion goes for about $450 apiece, so that’s their money maker,” Morgan said. “They say that only 3 percent of their services are abortions. However, we know from people who have left the abortion industry, like Abby Johnson, that this is a skewed statistic.”
The Planned Parenthood on E 6th Street.
Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood clinic director in Texas, has argued that the organization has unbundled services so that someone who visits once and receives a pack of birth control, an STD test and a cancer screening is counted as having visited the clinic three separate times.
Democratic legislative director Stephanie Chiarello said the Texas government does not actually have the ability to cut Planned Parenthood out of its funding stream because the organization’s financial support stems from Medicaid dollars, which come from the federal government.
“So the state gets a certain amount of money from the federal government and then they allocate it to providers,” Chiarello said. “Planned Parenthood is a provider like anybody else.”
She said Texas has the option to cut itself off from the Medicaid program, but it is not feasible to cut off funding to a specific health provider.
“[State politicians] know they will score political points by saying [the government will] defund Planned Parenthood,” Chiarello said. “So they’re saying that they’re doing it even though they can’t.”
In 1953, two brothers purchased three and a half acres of land from a local cedar-chopper. In 1956, the two brothers’ little sister, ‘Crazy Sarah’ bought that land from her brothers to venture into her own business. With that land she invested time, money, and efforts to pass down what is now the Dry Creek Saloon to son, Jay Reynolds. The family was unknowing that it would mature into a monument of memories for generations to come.
‘’’Crazy Sarah’ and I? No relation. But she is my hero. My mentor,” says Angel Altenhofel, the lead bartender who now runs Dry Creek Saloon.
Altenhofel bartended for a quarter-century around Austin, and has witnessed the changes in bar scenes over the years. Altenhofel says she caught hell early, but is glad to have landed at Dry Creek.
Angel waiting for customers to come in.
“She loved being called Crazy Sarah. She was known as the meaning bartender in Austin. She always told customers ‘Bring your bottles back down on!’ otherwise, you didn’t get another one,” Altenhofel snorts in a light-hearted tone.
Although Reynolds owns Dry Creek Saloon, Altenhofel is in charge of operations. She joined the Dry Creek family in a rather ironic way—through a funeral. Town rumors spread that Sarah’s successor was on his way to quitting. Altenhofel took heed and made her way over the next weekend, and was offered the job on the spot.
Business for the Dry Creek family continued to boom until 1984. It was the year the National Minimum Drinking Age Act was enacted raising the legal age to 21, and placed strict restrictions on Austinites and tourists.
“It put her [Nana] down. Up to that time, she had a goldmine” Reynolds says. The bar was also included in Austin City Limits that same year but still felt the impact of losing their most valuable resources—college students.
“Mom was going to sell the place, but I told her I’d buy it from her, and lease it back to her, then gift the payments,” Reynolds mentions. In time he paid off the mortgage, year by year of about $11,000, and was able to keep his mother comfortable.
Despite their efforts to keep the family legacy alive, corporate interests surfaced, and developers have been at bay hoping to buy out the family business for over 50 years. The offers on Jay’s land have increased over the years, the latest offer being at $2 million, but Jay and his family still declines.
Sunset on the deck at Dry Creek.
“I never was looking to sell. I don’t need the money, the heck with it,” Jay says. Townhouses, plazas, and condos are all that would replace the legacy of Dry Creek, and the family has never caught interest. Jay instead built a house for himself and family, a permanent sign that they are here to stay.
Jay also has one son, and a possible successor, who has become an Austin native through a different path—music. His band ‘Lucid Dimentia’ is a new-age industrial genre and has been playing for 15 years on the famous 6th street, and occasionally come back to his dad’s bar for a home show.
“There’s a big group of Texas alums that still come back, shocked that Dry Creek is still here. You’d be amazed how many people have even proposed here” Reynolds says.
“It’s the last best dive in town. Last someone told me we were number five,” Altenhofel humbly adds.
An ice cold beer, and the quiet, country atmosphere on the deck with an overlook of the sunset on Lake Travis are just a few of the delights of Dry Creek Saloon, Austin’s hidden gem in the big city. Dry Creek still holds the only 45-record jukebox in the city, and Reynold’s still holds the record for the longest running beer license within the same family in Austin.
UT Austin Villa’s robots recharge before playing a soccer match. Photo by Danielle Vabner.
By Danielle Vabner
Innovation is the name of the game for a group of programmers at the University of Texas at Austin. Located in the Computer Science Department, The Austin Villa Robot Soccer Team is faced with a seemingly impossible task: programming robots to move, speak, and play soccer.
The team is made up primarily of graduate and postgraduate students. Each member is tasked with a specific aspect of programming: Motion, Vision, Simulation, and Behaviors are just some of the categories that make up a robot’s ability to move and kick the ball.
Each year, their efforts culminate in a robot soccer tournament, in which they compete abroad against other teams. The team’s Nao Robots participate in the Standard Platform League, which has taken them to Singapore, Mexico City, Eindhoven, Holland, and most recently, China.
Sanmit Nervakar, a Computer Science PhD student, is in charge of Vision. His responsibilities include making sure the robots can recognize important objects based on their color. According to Nervakar, the team will soon swap out the currently bright orange ball for a more realistic color. This, he said, will present its own set of programming challenges.
“[The robots] can be really frustrating, but really rewarding when it works,” he said. “Having your code actually produce something physically, you connect with it more.”
Jake Menashe, who works on Localization and Vision, said that the team is an extension of the Learning Agents Research Group. Menashe said that as a team of computer scientists who conduct research, they are able to use that to their advantage when programming the robots.
“We use robot soccer as a platform for exploring general problems for learning and robotics,” he said. “All of these areas of artificial intelligence play a role in making a robot, and soccer is just a nice platform for us to do that.”
According to Menashe, the goal is to make sure that the robots are fully autonomous, and can perform all basic functions on their own. This process, which involves in-depth coding and programming, does not happen overnight.
“We devote about half a year to working on them, generally,” Menashe said. “It’s a pretty big time commitment.”
This intensive time commitment means that the team members spend a lot of time with the robots. According to Nevarkar, once they are finished, each one is given a name.
These names are usually based off of well-known cheeses. Alison Brie, Mikey Mozzarella and Gouda Daniels are just a few names that the team has come up with. Through months and months of hard work, The Austin Villa Robot Soccer Team still manages to have a sense of humor.
By: Estephanie Gomez, Estefania de Leon, Raylee Elder, and Karla Pulido
Blood, Sweat and Fear
By: Estephanie Gomez
The black night sky engulfs a run-down ghost town. Screams fill the October air. Guests laugh as they walk towards their cars, clothes stained with red. This isn’t your average charity event. This is Scare for a Cure.
Scare for a Cure is an Austin-based nonprofit that creates an interactive multimedia haunted adventure to raise money for local cancer-related charities and organizations. The program officially began operating as a 501-C3 charity recognized by the IRS in 2007, but the program began to ride the success of spooks and scares for charity years before.
Jarrett Crippen, co-founder and president of Scare for a Cure, began hosting haunted houses in his own home since the age of 16.
“I’ve always been crazy neighbor that did the over-the-top haunted house, Christmas decorations and any holiday, really,” Crippen said.
Crippen brought this spirit to his current neighborhood when he started his own family. He set up a haunted house every Halloween, and as it expanded, he began to ask for small donations, like a can of food, as the price for entry. According to Crippen, by 2005 the haunted house had grown so much that it had “taken over the neighborhood,” to the point where he had to find a new location for the haunted house. This growth led Crippen to create Scare for a Cure as a legitimate charity.
In the span of four years, Scare for a Cure moved from Crippen’s backyard to Elk’s Lodge to a ghost town in Manor, Texas where it currently remains and haunts today. With the expansion of the program, Crippen set his philanthropic sights higher than a can of food. Scare for a Cure partnered with the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas, raising $5,000 for the organization in 2007 during its first official year of operation. In 2010, Scare for a Cure donated $20,000, and this year, Crippen plans on raising $35,000.
The partnership with the Breast Cancer Resource Center came after weeks of scouring through local charities.
“Everyone I called was more than happy to give me an address to mail the check to, but there was no partnership element to it,” Crippen said. “It was disheartening.”
Minutes into his phone call with the BCRC, a coordinator asked to meet with Crippen to see what the center could do to help. According to Crippen, this was the kind of symbiotic relationship he was looking for.
Phyllis Rose, director of volunteer services at the BCRC, has worked with Scare for a Cure since 2008 and sees everyone at Scare as family.
“We’re a beneficiary of theirs, but we consider them much more than that. They’re involved in every step of the way in everything we do, “ Rose said.
Similarly, Rose coordinates groups of BCRC volunteers to help out at the haunted event wherever they can in the event’s long process.
This process includes coming up with a different theme each year, creating characters and their dialogue, making costumes, and designing and building up to 38 different sets and stages. According to Crippen, this begins in January. As a completely volunteer-based organization, most volunteers see the long process as a labor of love; they are there because they want to be.
Christina Wang, a volunteer in the costume department, said she went straight to a volunteer tent and asked to sign up after her first experience as a guest in 2011. According to Wang, the costuming process usually begins in April to be able to deal with problems down the line. However, she regards these challenges as “cool” and as an outlet for her sewing creativity.
Crippen estimated that he himself spent at least 2,500 hours working on Scare for a Cure outside of his day-job as a police detective for the Austin Police Department – a job he spends about 2,080 hours on. Although the event is time consuming, Crippen said he couldn’t imagine life without it.
“There are times I feel like Scare [for a Cure] is a fast-moving train that I can’t just jump off , because it’s so overwhelming, it takes up so much of our lives…but as soon as [it’s] over, I’m ready to dive back into it head-first.”
Scare For A Cure, a non-profit organization, host their annual interactive haunted house at J. Lorraine Ghost Town in Manor, TX. Profits go to organizations like the Breast Cancer Resource Center of Texas (BCRC).
4 Outside Makeup
Make-up artists work outside before the show to add minor scrapes and bruises to the shows characters.
The costuming department for Scare For A Cure, puts together the look for the entire crew after receiving the script. Clothes are donated, handmade, or store-bought.
Two volunteers argue as part of the script for this year’s Scare For A Cure.
Behind the scenes, make-up artists work diligently in trailers. The make-up done inside the trailers is more complex.
Actors get make up put on. Many of the characters are asylum patients.
Photos by: Karla Pulido
Edited by: Estefania de Leon
By: Shadan Larki, Marisa Martinez, and Brianna Walker
From Palm-Heels to Pirouettes: How one man’s passion for dance transformed his life — and a local dance club.
The Ben Hur Shrine serves as the Austin headquarters for the Shriners Fraternity. A centuries-old brotherhood, The Shriners are known for their namesake Shriners Hospitals for Children and have called the locale home for the past decade.
However, the brown brick building on Rockwood Lane houses much more than just the Shriners. On Tuesday evenings, the Shriners office closes and the reception room next door becomes the Austin City Dance Club, a non-profit, social dancing organization that offers lessons in West Coast Swing, Country Two-Step, Cha Cha, Nightclub Two-Step, and Hustle.
“Austin City Dance Club follows a model that is different from some other clubs and studios: we pay our talent well. Our bottom line is non-profit, so we don’t worry about being wealthy,” said club ACDC instructor President and Co-Founder Mike Topel.
Austin City Dance Club doesn’t require a membership to get “in the swing,” but signing on does boast some perks. The ACDC offers membership discounts and a special rate for students.
“Our classes skew younger than some of the cities I visit. Its appeal is that younger people have lots of puppy-like exuberance. Older crowds tend to have more money, though…so we trade cash for energy sometimes,” Topel said.
The organization attracts high-level talent instructors to lead their group classes.
“All of our instructors are internationally recognized superstars. Believe it or not, that’s a big deal,” Topel said. “Our instructors visit the rest of the world on a nearly weekly basis; they’re constantly perfecting themselves for an international audience, and constantly experimenting on our local students with some of their freshest stuff.”
Topel is no stranger to life on the road either, so far his 2015 docket has included roughly 20 national competitions, and appearances.
But it hasn’t always been international stages and standing ovations for the Swing, Latin, Country, and American Social dance instructor.
“I danced for the first time at a high school sock hop. I was horrible,” said Topel. “But I got significantly better at a pre-college getaway in 1984 when Prince and Michael Jackson were big and I had a little more inspiration to draw from.”
Topel also counts James Brown and Bob Fosse among his influences. But not all the dancers he watched were pop stars.
“My earliest dance memory is the Lawrence Welk show, and watching my grandparents Foxtrot, Waltz & Polka to some happening bands,” Topel said. “I graduated to [watching] American Bandstand in the 1970s, then eventually Soul Train.”
By the 90s, Topel found himself no longer just a bystander to dance, but practicing the craft as well.
“By 1991, country line-dancing became the thing, and friends and I jumped on that,” Topel said. “Things went downhill from there. As in now I had an addiction I couldn’t control”.
Seven years later, Topel traded his cubicle for a studio and was dancing and teaching full time.
“The best part of teaching is directing the emotions and memories of the students in a class,” Topel said. “Everything learned is reinforced with humor and constructive positivity.”
Topel also holds a second-degree black belt in martial arts and brings that discipline to the dance floor.
“I learned movement control in the martial arts. Learning a routine, basically. That set me up for learning dance sequences,” Topel said. “Plus, a good amount of time was spent on flexibility, strength, stamina and balance.”
Martial arts training also gave Topel an unexpected dose of teaching experience.
“My head instructor insisted on having the black belts teach and trained us in teaching techniques. Also [it taught me] how to learn with an open mind and to take criticism well.”
While being able to take criticism is something Topel values, he says his best students are the ones who aren’t afraid to push back.
“No students stick out unless they heckle me,” Topel says. “And then it’s game on. Really, the only thing that sticks out to me is if the student is engaged or annoyed enough to see me as a punching bag and take a couple of pokes. That person will be somebody someday.”
On any given Tuesday night Topel can be seen greeting people at the front desk in the beginning of the evening, DJing the open dance at the end of the night and even out on the dance floor with the other dancers.
Look & Listen:Texas Tricking Offers A Unique Way to Express Oneself
The Austin City Dance Club isn’t the only organization trying to get Austin moving.
Texas Tricking is a University of Texas at Austin organization with one mission: practice tricking in a welcoming environment. Founding member Justin Park describes what is tricking, and how people can get involved.
For more information, UT students can connect with their Hornslink page or anyone can join their public Facebook group.
Junior Justin Park waits for practice to begin by setting out a mat and stretching. Park is Executive Vice President of Texas Tricking and founded the organization with his brother, Kevin Park.
Park shares a joke with a fellow member of Texas Tricking. Park is a Junior Neurobiology major.
Park stretches out his leg participants begin flipping on the Mat. Texas Tricking practice is open to the public and meets every Monday and Wednesday at 5:30pm at Clark field, located near San Jacinto and 21st Street.
Members begin showcasing moves. The organization plans to locate to a gym with tricking equipment called "BAM Academy", located on North Lamar.
An unidentified member of Texas Tricking high kicks in front of San Jacinto dormitory. Park says many members participation depends on coursework.
Park watches as Senior Alex Brown leaps and kicks in the air. Brown is a senior Biochemistry major.
Freshman computer engineering major Austin Mroz jumps and tumbles onto a mat during practice. Mroz says he joined Texas Tricking after 7 years of gymnastic experience.
Freshman petroleum engineer major Misha Chada tumbles over Park's back while trying to perfect the move. Chada joined Texas Tricking because when he was younger, he suffered from a brain aneurysm. Chada says, "I joined Texas Tricking because I wanted to continue to push my limits and not let anything stop me from doing what I love".
Brown flips and showcases a perfect landing for other participants. Brown says his favorite move is doing a front flip.
Park jumps and kicks showing off his moves for other participants. Park says Texas Tricking offers a friendly environment that encourages each other.
Find out what style of dance you should try with our quiz here, and test out your moves at these Austin dance locations:
Use this chart to decipher your results: https://magic.piktochart.com/output/8949866-dance-flow-chart
Texas may not join the states that have legalized recreational marijuana anytime soon, but medicinal marijuana reform will continue to be a discussion among legislators and advocates this next legislative session.
By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross
Texas lawmakers can’t blow smoke when it comes to marijuana laws anymore.
Texas voter views have changed dramatically in the last several years regarding marijuana use and decriminalization. A statewide poll by Texas Lyceum found that 46 percent of adults support legalizing marijuana completely. 28.5 percent of those who oppose legalization stated they would be in favor of decriminalizing it instead. Only 20 percent of Texans oppose reform in every way.
“Polling shows over and over again that Texans are ready for reform,” says Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “This isn’t a taboo issue anymore, it’s a very serious public policy issue.”
Texas legislators will not convene for the 85th session until January 2017 but many advocates of marijuana reform say the critical planning has already begun.
“Because Texas only meets to change laws every two years, if we do not act decisively in the 2017 session, we will be significantly behind the rest of the nation,” says Jax Finkel, Executive Director for Texas NORML, an organization that works to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults. “Our legislators need to come to terms with the fact that this is the change that Texans want.”
The 84th Legislative Session had roughly ten marijuana-related bills proposed but only one managed to pass.
“The fact that there were that many bills is really encouraging,” says Fazio. “It demonstrates there is an agreement that laws need to be changed.”
All of the marijuana-related bills passed out of the house, and several were able to pass out of committee but due to the time constraints of the legislative system, they died when the session ended.
“For HB 507, the Civil Penalties bill and HB 557, the Research Hemp bill, the clock ran out,” says Finkel. “For HB 3785, the Whole Plant Medical bill, the Chairwoman of the Committee would not let a vote be held on the bill, therefore killing it.”
The majority of these weed bills may have burned this session but supporters aren’t letting them cash out for good.
“We had authors come on board after the hearings last sessions,” says Fazio. “Next session, we would like to see fewer bills but with more people standing behind each of them.”
As for the bill that did pass, SB 339, otherwise known as The Compassionate Use Act was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in June therefore legalizing the limited use of marijuana extracts to treat severe forms of epilepsy.
Texas now stands among the list of 23 states who have legalized medicinal marijuana but before Texans start fearing reefer madness to strike again, they should know the strict regulations of this new law.
The act makes it nearly impossible for those needing the treatment to qualify, or find doctors willing to write the prescription since it exposes them to federal criminal sanctions. Doctors would potentially be opening themselves up to committing a felony since prescribing a schedule one drug is still illegal. Doctors in other states that have legalized medicinal use the method of “recommending” or “certifying” the drug instead.
“The primary tenets that need to be changed for this law to work are expanding the qualifying conditions, expanding the number of strains allowed and altering the legal language to allow doctors to certify patients instead of prescribing,” says Fazio.
To qualify, a patient must have intractable epilepsy and can only access “low-THC cannabis” or that containing less than .05 percent THC.
A patient can only obtain the medicine from a licensed dispensary and to no surprise, none currently exist in Texas. The Department of Public Safety is required to license at least three dispensaries by September 2017.
There are thousands of different strains of marijuana plants and the current law prohibits using the psychoactive element of the plant.
But Fazio argues “that part is very important, that’s what helps the patient from suffering from the condition. Lawmakers want to keep it out because they think patients will get high.”
Currently, the Texas law limits the use to those whom suffer from severe epilepsy but studies have shown there are countless other illnesses and diseases that could also be helped.
“We all know someone who has been affected by a debilitating condition,” says Fazio “And if there is a natural medicine choice instead, more Texans would be willing to get the government out of the doctors office.”
Texas NORML wants to see more cannabinoids available for therapeutic use for patients. They also aim to pass another bill that will offer a more comprehensive whole plant program.
Finkel says she expects to see “an expansion of the Compassionate Use Program in 2017 and that we will likely see a civil penalties bill pass. I think that Texas is more likely to have a full retail market implemented in 2019.”
The first set of rule reforms for the Compassionate Use Act are expected to be released mid-November of this month.
In Texas, many electoral decisions are made during the primary elections which are coming up in March 2016.
“Our districts often know what political party will win in advance because of the gerrymandering of district lines. This means that the most competitive and active races are actually at the primary level,” says Finkel. “Since Texas is limited in how we can change laws, it is very important that we make sure that our state representatives and state senators are educated and compassionate when it comes to this issue.”
Advocates from Texas NORML say that the election period is a great time to talk to candidates about their stances and keep the conversations going.
While most candidates publicly announce their stance on issues like education and border security, many avoid sharing their opinions about the controversial drug. Representatives seeking re-election may not be able to stay neutral about the topic anymore.
We took a survey around campus asking if University of Texas students supported the legalization of medicinal marijuana. The students had the choice of either supporting total legalization, just medicinal legalization, or to not support legalization. After getting their opinion, we asked them to explain their position on the matter.
"I do not support the legalization of medicinal or any marijuana because I don't really have a stance on it. If it was legal it wouldn't change anything for me," said Johnny Chatman
"I fully support legalization because why not? If it's going to be legal it's going to have to be completely legal," said Natalie Smith
"I support total legalization because sure, I just don't see why not," said Robert Cortez
"Sure I support the legalization of medicinal marijuana only, but I don't want to be seen saying that I do," said Sandra Mere who wanted her face to remain out of the photo.
"Honestly I just feel like it's a drug that everyone does anyway so the government might as well tax it and make revenue off of it," said Heather Grosenbacher
"I support legalization of medicinal marijuana because it has been proven to be a beneficial treatment to certain illnesses. However I also support total legalization because there is so much governmental money going into prisons as well as all of the other negative aspects of the drug. I also don't think there are enough studies testing the drug going on. If we legalize it, then more studies could be done of the drug's addictive qualities. I've been clean from the drug for three years and four days - I wish I knew how to avoid the addictive aspects marijuana so I could use its benefits to those suffering from depression," said Kaity Dallas
"I do wish it was decriminalized, but I think legalizing it might just open up a can of worms," said Savannah Ricci
"I personally know someone who has Crohn's and smoking is the only way he can eat, but I'm not sure if I support the legalization of recreational use," said Jack Savage
"No one has ever died from marijuana yet it's not legal when I know several people who have died at the hands of alcohol and that's legal," said Sarah Jane Taber
"I just don't support it. That is my stance," said Kevin Ma