Monday, February 28, 2011

Save counties money by reducing low-level pot offenses?

At tomorrow's House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting, (see their agenda), one bill jumps out at me that would provide tremendous relief to local county jails and an influx of revenue to municipal and county coffers from increased fine revenue:  HB548 (Dutton) Reducing penalties for less than an ounce of marijuana. Grits pontificated on the immense benefits to county government from such legislation last fall in a post titled, "On the benefits to county budgets, local police coverage from reducing pot penalties." Since as of 2009, 57.9% of all drug arrest in Texas were for pot, most for low-level amounts, making many of those cases Class C misdemeanors would a) significantly reduce intake volume at local jails and b) generate fine revenue instead of cost counties money for jail, court-appointed counsel., etc.. Most Class B pot cases end up on probation, anyway, and with misdemeanor probation funds eliminated in the House and Senate budgets, arguably it's pointless to bother supervising pot smokers when it diverts scarce CSCD resources from supervising misdemeanor DWI offenders, family violence defendants, etc..

From a fiscal perspective, Dutton's bill makes loads of sense. In 2005 under leadership of then-Chairman Terry Keel, this same committee approved a similar bill unanimously, with several Republicans including Keel and Rep. Debbie Riddle voting for the measure, but then Speaker Craddick didn't want the bill to go to a floor vote, ostensibly to "protect" the members from voters like this guy. (This year, the budget crisis is so severe that, if the bill gets that far, the new Speaker IMO should blow past such concerns and let members vote. There will be so many unfunded mandates, particularly for county jails, that the Lege should at least do something that provides counties explicit relief. But that's getting ahead of ourselves.) There's no telling how this committee - most of whom are new to the issues and many of whom are new to the Lege - will vote on Dutton's bill, but it'd be something they could easily tout back home as reducing the burden on county budgets.

IMO fears of voter backlash at such a vote are overblown. It didn't harm Debbie Riddle or others who voted for Dutton's bill in 2005. And notably, a larger proportion of Texas voters supported outright legalization of marijuana than support any single budget cut presented to them in a recent UT/Texas Tribune poll. Objections to the bill over the years have become increasingly rare (in 2005 when it passed out of committee, no one registered against it). Maybe with the budget crisis being what it is, this will be the year the legislation will find its legs. Stranger things have happened.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't legislators be admitting that they were wrong regarding the cornerstone of their anti-drug agenda which has always been that marijuana is the gateway through which all drug users must pass to get hooked on the hard drugs?

In my 50-plus years I have yet to meet anyone who tried cocaine their first time who wasn't under the influence of alcohol...

DEWEY said...

Legalize it and tax it.

Anonymous said...

Don't like what you see happening in Mexico? Guess who funds the drug cartels. Guess who sends $50 billion south every year. Guess whose pocket that money falls into. The bullets they use to murder journalists and mayors were bought with the money we send south.

You say, "we can grow our weed here". We don't have the climate for it. Remember that 50 you slipped the man last week? Wonder where it went? Want to defund these bastards? It's easy, just put down the pipe.

DLW said...

We don't save as much money if Law Enforcement makes a custodial arrest on the Class C pot cases. Until the legislature does something to correct the Atwater v Lago Vista situation and until the Governor signs it we are not fixing the problem. Changing the penalty without limiting the ability of LE to make a full blown custodial arrest doesn't get there.

titfortat said...

“Save counties money by reducing low-level pot offenses,” (It won’t work in Harris County)

The problem with creating another class c misdemeanor especially for marijuana is that it will not work; it will end up creating millions of open warrants and instead of revenue coming in it will be revenue going out (twice), once for the initial stop taking valuable time away from the cop on the beat, and then again when an arrest is made after a failure to appear in court occurs.

In Harris County a significant amount of revenue that once came in due to class c misdemeanors no longer exists. Under the guise of helping to reduce jail overcrowding thousands of people are detained for 24 hours instead of being made available for release within a 4 to 8 hour time period, impacting the jail population further.

Their ridiculously expensive arrest, incarceration, and eventual (in jail) overnight adjudication generate a substantial price tag that does not bring in one dime of revenue and results with their eventual release.

This waste of tax dollars (24 hour incarceration) washes all their sins away; no fines are paid for the violation, and in the case of theft or bad check charges no recovery of any kind is made, the defendant is given time served and released when a guilty plea is entered (this is the vast majority), and when a not guilty plea is entered they are released on their own recognizance so that this same fiasco can begin again for the third time when they fail to appear.

In essence if you get arrested for a class c misdemeanor and are taken to the Harris County Jail the only difference in legalization and creating a class c misdemeanor offense is the substantial cost to the tax payer, it would cost nothing if legalized and tax dollars could be generated from the commercial sale and distribution.

If Harris County provided a quick release possibility for class c misdemeanors through private bail the majority of these defendants would choose to post bail over spending 24 hours in jail and losing a day of work. If this were possible they would then go to court and pay their fines and Harris County could benefit substantially.

Otherwise the only (real) remedy is the legalization and taxation of marijuana.

As for the other class c offenses now being washed away we can chalk up all that lost revenue to the never ending mismanagement of government. Take, spend, and raise taxes seems to be the only philosophy they understand.

PAPA said...

STOP the INSANITY...Legalize the drugs, just like Liquor stores, WE THE PEOPLE "MUST" drive this requirement home in our voting our representatives...WE THE PEOPLE want change immediately...WE THE PEOPLE are no longer going to take this sitting down where the corruption of our Criminal Injustice Systems is destroying the lives of our Citizens by the inhumane treatment behind the razorwire fences, locked doors, gate, cell doors, the corruption from the payoffs in the criminal justice system while allowing the WORST of the WORST to work in our prisons abusing, raping, torturing, medically neglecting the Inmates, our Love Ones, ENOUGH is ENOUGH, Reform or out the DOOR, "Not" Soft on Crime,"STRONG" on Fair Justice

Anonymous said...

For all you Law Enforcement proponents this should be a no brainer.Cop pulls over a couple teenage kids. Smells pot. Calls for backup. Second cop arrives. Send drug dog. Third unit arrives. Drug dog does search. Finds 10 grams pot. Arrest driver and passenger. Fingerprint, photograph put in jail. Three cops spend a total of at least 5 hours plus the department expense. Result $500.00 fine and take drug course! Did we stop these kids from using pot? Did we damage the cartels? Was this a good use for Police time and money? Just cite the smokers and move on.