Texans are ready for positive change to marijuana laws
A poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project in Texas shows that a strong majority of voters in the state support taking marijuana off the criminal market, legalizing it for adults, and taxing and regulating it similarly to alcohol. According to the poll, 58% of voters support making this change, while only 38% were opposed. If you agree that marijuana should be taxed and regulated in Texas, be sure to let your state representative and senator know!
An even stronger majority, 61%, support reducing penalties for the possession of a small amount of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil penalty similar to a traffic ticket. During the past legislative session, a long-time supporter of sensible marijuana laws in Texas, Rep. Harold Dutton, Jr. (D), introduced a bill that would have made even more modest improvements to Texas’ marijuana laws. HB 184 would have reduced possession penalties to a non-jailable offense for those without prior convictions. However, even first-offense possession would still have been considered a crime. After being heard in committee, the bill was amended to apply only to people under the age of 21. Unfortunately, the bill was not given a vote in the House before the close of the session, despite the fact that the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the bill in a 6-3 vote.
Efforts to protect patients also continue. Rep. Eliot Naishtat reintroduced legislation last session that would have given patients with serious illnesses an “affirmative defense” against charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana. His bill, HB 594, would not have given patients protection from arrest, but it would have allowed them to demonstrate that their use was medical in nature and escape a criminal conviction. The bill was left pending in committee and did not advance before the end of the session.
Texas’s marijuana laws
In Texas, a conviction for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana can result in a jail sentence of up to six months and a fine of up to $2,000. According to reports of arrests by state law enforcement to the FBI, Texas made over 70,000 arrests in 2011 for marijuana-related offenses, 98% of which were for possession. During the same year, an astonishing 90% of all reported burglaries — including home invasions — and 88% of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved by law enforcement. Also alarming is the fact that African-Americans are more than twice as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession in Texas as whites, despite similar marijuana use rates. For more information on how the war on marijuana is often waged unequally between races, check out this ACLU report.
Something else you might not know is that the Texas Democratic Party actually made the decriminalization of marijuana part of its official platform last year. Click here to read more about that and to ask your state legislators to support such a measure.
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