According to the GAO, 14.6 million Americans smoked marijuana last month. Should all these people be arrested?Out of 425 people who responded to the survey (!), only 5% of you thought it made sense to arrest marijuana smokers, while a whopping 2/3 (67%) believed marijuana should be straight up legalized. The rest didn't support full-blown legalization but also thought arrest was inappropriate.
While Grits readers' opinions surely don't jibe exactly with public opinion (that's almost double the national figure I last saw for legalization support), other data makes me think Texans are leaning away from jailing pot smokers. In Nacogdoches recently in Deep East Texas, the Daily Sentinel asked in a non-scientific web poll what should be done about that county's overcrowded jail. Six percent said rent more beds, 28% said build a bigger jail, while 66% supported "routing certain types of offenders to other non-jail sanctions, services and options." (See p. 25 of this pdf report.)
In Nacogdoches and elsewhere in the state, the most immediate way to route low-level offenders out of the jail is implementation of HB 2391, signed by Governor Perry earlier this year. That new law allows citations instead of arrest at an officer's discretion for certain nonviolent misdemeanors. Texas isn't about to "legalize" marijuana in the near term (though legislation was filed in each of the last two sessions to lower pot penalties), but HB 2391 is the best short-term vehicle for diverting pot smokers and other low-risk offenders from local jails.
In fact, here's a good homework project for Grits readers who oppose arrest for pot offenses: Call your local police or sheriff's department and find out whether they're allowing their officers to exercise this new discretion under HB 2391, then come back and let us know in the comments (or via email) what they say. If they're not doing it, be sure write a letter to the editor of the local paper explaining why they should, and forward a copy to your local pols.
I think if people did that, they'd find more public support in most parts of the state compared to a decade ago. These two non-scientific surveys tell me Texans may be less interested in locking up small-time pot offenders than a lot of our "tuff on crime" politicians tend to believe, at least when the issue is framed in terms of dollars and sense.