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Featured, from left: Former longtime Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Omar Ochoa, the Edinburg City Attorney, in the Edinburg City Council Chamber on Thursday, February 14, 2019 at Edinburg City Hall.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

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Omar Ochoa: Texas Attorney General Opinion requested on legality of cannabidiol; federal legislation filed in Washington, D.C. for equal pay for women, and to fight White Supremacist threat

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Uncertainty about the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive extract from marijuana used in retail products which are promoted for the treatment of various and sometimes chronic ailments, has resulted in Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa recently filing a petition for a Texas Attorney General Opinion.

Cannabidiol (CBD) seems to reduce pain and anxiety, according to WebMD, which states that CBD provides credible information, supportive communities, and in-depth reference material about health subjects that matter to its readers.

(https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-1439/cannabidiol)

An attorney general opinion is a written interpretation of existing law. The Texas Constitution and section 402.042 of the Texas Government Code grant the attorney general authority to issue attorney general opinions. Courts have stated that attorney general opinions are highly persuasive and are entitled to great weight. However, the ultimate determination of a law’s applicability, meaning or constitutionality is left to the courts.

https://texashistory.unt.edu/explore/collections/TXAGO/

In his correspondence to Attorney General Ken Paxton, dated Monday, March 14, 2019, Ochoa explained that CBD stores have opened across the state, including in Hidalgo County, selling a variety of CBD products. Customers, including Edinburg residents, visit these retailers to purchase CBD products in hopes of treating their ailments, sometimes chronic. They possess CBD in their homes, in their cars, and in their bags and purses.

“The City of Edinburg requests guidance for the sake of its residents, local businesses, and police officers,” Ochoa stated. “The City wants to instruct police officers how to handle CBD sales and possession and to inform its residents and local businesses of the correct status of the law. The City of Edinburg therefore asks: Is the sale, distribution, and possession of CBD products, including CBD oil, permitted in Texas?”

Furthermore, certain jurisdictions in the State continue to prosecute for the sale, distribution, and/or possession of CBD products, including CBD oil, he stated.

“In Tarrant County, District Attorney Larry Moore has said in response to media inquiries that CBD is illegal under state law and that his office will prosecute persons and businesses,” Ochoa stated. “In contrast, the Denton County District Attorney’s office responded to a media inquiry that is is currently not pursing CBD only cases give the state of the law.”

Cannabidiol (CBD) generated considerable attention in 2015 during the 84th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, when state lawmakers considered, debated, and passed Senate Bill 339 by Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, which established a physician’s authority to prescribe low-THC cannabis to a patient with intractable epilepsy.

According to testimony on SB 339, cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to dramatically decrease the number of seizures in people with intractable epilepsy. The oil is produced to be high in CBD and low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the intoxicating ingredient in the marijuana plant.

Ochoa’s request for the Texas Attorney General Opinion follows:

March 14, 2019

The Honorable Ken Paxton
Attorney General of Texas
209 W. 14th Street
Austin, TX 78701

Via email: opinion.committee@oag.texas.gov

Dear General Paxton,

The City of Edinburg, Texas through its City Attorney’s Office writes to request a legal opinion and guidance. There is confusion around the state regarding the legal status of cannabidiol (CBD), including in Edinburg, Texas, located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley in Hidalgo County.

CBD is a concentrated solvent extract that’s produced from cannabis flowers or leaves. It is dubbed as a non-intoxicating extract as opposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In the last few years, CBD oil and other CBD products have been sold and used to treat a range of medical conditions, including epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and anxiety disorder.

On June 1, 2015, Governor Greg Abbot signed SB 339 allowing for the use of cannabis oil with no more than .5% THC and at least 10% CBD for treatment of intractable epilepsy. The bill also required the Department of Public Safety to create a registry of physicians who could prescribe qualifying cannabis to patients and to license dispensing organizations.

Since the enactment of SB 339, the federal government passed the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill removed hemp and hemp-derived products from the last of Schedule 1 drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.

The federal definition of hemp requires that it contain less than 0.3% THC. Thus, the wide-spread belief as a result of these laws that CBD oil is extracted from hemp that contains less than 0.3% THC is legal and may be sold, purchased, possessed, and used. Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law No. 115-334, 132 Stat 4490. Id. § 12619 of the 2018 Farm Bill, Conforming Changes to Controlled Substances Act (providing “[t]he term ‘marihuana’ does not include—(i) hemp, as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946”). 7 U.S.C. § 5940(b).

Retail and consumer behavior reflect this belief. CBD stores have opened across the state, including in Hidalgo County, selling a variety of CBD products. Customers, including Edinburg residents, visit these retailers to purchase CBD products in hopes of treating their ailments, sometimes chronic. They possess CBD in their homes, in their cars, and in their bags and purses.

Despite the Farm Bill and retailer and consumer actions, certain jurisdictions in the State continue to prosecute for the sale, distribution, and/or possession of CBD products, including CBD oil. In Tarrant County, District Attorney Larry Moore has said in response to media inquiries that CBD is illegal under state law and that his office will prosecute persons and businesses. In contrast, the Denton County District Attorney’s office responded to a media inquiry that is is currently not pursing CBD only cases give the state of the law. Given the confusion among jurisdictions with the State, and the apparent disparity between state and federal law regarding CBD, the City of Edinburg requests guidance for the sake of its residents, local businesses, and police officers. The City wants to instruct police officers how to handle CBD sales and possession and to inform its residents and local businesses of the correct status of the law. The City of Edinburg therefore asks: Is the sale, distribution, and possession of CBD products, including CBD oil, permitted in Texas?

Sincerely,

Omar Ochoa
City Attorney

CONGRESSMAN CUELLAR VOTES IN SUPPORT OF EQUAL PAY FOR WOMEN

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, on Thursday, March 28, 2019 voted in favor of H.R. 7, the Paycheck Fairness Act. This legislation, sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), will help close the wage gap and ensure women receive equal pay for equal work. Cuellar joined all 239 members of the House Democratic Caucus as an on original co-sponsor of the bill for the 116th Congress.

“Gender discrimination in the workforce is unacceptable and we must do everything to ensure that women receive equal pay for equal work,” said Cuellar. “I am an original co-sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act for this important reason — I am committed to ensuring that women have the opportunities and resources to thrive in the workplace. I will continue to support legislation that fights discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”

Due to loopholes in the law and weak sanctions for violations, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 has not provided the tools to truly combat unequal pay. Full-time working women still earn just 80 cents, on average, for every dollar a man earns, amounting to a yearly gap of $10,169 between full-time working men and women. The Paycheck Fairness Act modernizes the Equal Pay Act by strengthening and closing loopholes through its provisions.

Among its key provisions, the Paycheck Fairness Act would:

• Require employers to prove that pay disparities exist for legitimate, job-related reasons. In doing so, it ensures that employers who try to justify paying a man more than a woman for the same job must show the disparity is not sex-based, but job-related and necessary.

• Ban retaliation against workers who voluntarily discuss or disclose their wages.

• Ensure women can receive the same robust remedies for sex-based pay discrimination that are currently available to those subjected to discrimination based on race and ethnicity.

• Remove obstacles in the Equal Pay Act to facilitate a wronged worker’s participation in class action lawsuits that challenge systemic pay discrimination.

• Make improvements in the Department of Labor’s tools for enforcing the Equal Pay Act.

• Provide assistance to all businesses to help them with their equal pay practices, recognizes excellence in pay practices by businesses, and empowers women and girls by creating a negotiation skills training program.

• Prohibit employers from relying on salary history in determining future pay, so that pay discrimination does not follow women from job to job.

CONGRESSMAN GONZÁLEZ INTRODUCES LEGISLATION TO COMBAT WHITE SUPREMACIST THREAT

Following the massacre at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Congressmen Vicente González, D-McAllen, Brad Schneider (IL-10), Robin Kelly (IL-02) in the House and Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) in the Senate, on Thursday, March 28, 2019 introduced legislation to address the growing threat of white supremacists and other violent right-wing extremists.

The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would enhance the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism by requiring federal law enforcement agencies to regularly assess this threat and provide training and resources to assist state, local, and tribal law enforcement in addressing it.

“Defeating white supremacy is not just about cutting an arm off of the monster, it is about taking down the entire monster of domestic terrorism all together,” González said. “This bill would provide federal agencies with the resources they need to keep Americans safe from the threat of home-grown terrorism. I am proud to join my colleagues in introducing legislation that would dedicate federal time, energy, and resources to monitoring these harmful groups. By enacting this law, we also strengthen partnerships with state and local law enforcement to build the right team to combat hateful violence.”

According to a May 2017 intelligence bulletin by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), white supremacist extremism poses a persistent threat of lethal violence, and white supremacists were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 —more than any other domestic extremist movement.

“It’s time we update our laws to reflect the growing threat of domestic terror. In the last decade, white supremacists and other violent far-right extremists have been responsible for more deaths than any other category,” Schneider said. “I am proud to partner with Senator Durbin on legislation strengthening coordination on monitoring these groups and preventing acts of violence. From a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin to a church in South Carolina to a synagogue in Pennsylvania, we have too many tragic examples of the dangers of domestic terrorism, and the recent tragedy in New Zealand shows the vile ideology of hate is growing beyond our borders as well. This legislation is a necessary first step to help our law enforcement contain the threat.”

The bill authorizes Justice Department (DOJ), DHS, and FBI offices that are responsible for monitoring, analyzing, investigating, and prosecuting domestic terrorism. The bill also requires these offices to issue joint annual reports to the House and Senate Judiciary, Homeland Security, and Intelligence Committees that assess the domestic terrorism threat posed by white supremacists; analyze domestic terrorism incidents that occurred in the previous year; and provide transparency through a public quantitative analysis of domestic terrorism-related assessments, investigations, incidents, arrests, indictments, prosecutions, convictions, and weapons recoveries.

“Violent white supremacists and other far-right extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today,” Durbin said. “For too long, we have failed to take action to combat the deadly threat in our own backyard. While federal law enforcement agencies recognize that white supremacist extremism is on the rise, our legislation would require them to take the concrete steps needed to address it.”

The DHS, DOJ, and FBI offices would be required to focus their limited resources on the most significant domestic terrorism threats, as determined by the number of domestic terrorism-related incidents outlined in the joint report.

“White supremacists and other individuals with extremist ideologies continue to threaten public safety and the lives of American families. Tragically, this Administration has done nothing but embolden white supremacists and their disgusting ilk. With the President saying ‘there are good people on both sides’ and doing nothing else, Congress must act to combat the real and growing terror threat to American lives,” Kelly said. “It’s time we take the fight to end terrorism to the real terrorists that pose a direct and growing threat to our families and our safety.”

The legislation also codifies the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee (DTEC), an interagency task force which was originally created by the Department of Justice in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.

Additionally, the bill requires DOJ, DHS, and the FBI to provide training and resources to assist State, local, and tribal law enforcement in understanding, detecting, deterring, and investigating acts of domestic terrorism. The legislation also requires the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces and State, local, and regional fusion centers, which coordinate with DHS, to (1) share intelligence to address domestic terrorism activities; (2) conduct annual, intelligence-based assessments of domestic terrorism activities in their jurisdictions; and (3) formulate and execute a plan to combat domestic terrorism activities in their jurisdictions. Finally, the legislation would establish an interagency task force to combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services.

The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act has been endorsed by leading civil rights organizations, including Muslim Advocates, Anti-Defamation League, and the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

To view the text of the legislation, please click here.

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Olya Voytovich and Aaron Morales contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).

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