For drugs other than marijuana, possession of less than a gram — the equivalent of less than a sugar packet — is a state jail felony in Texas. This saddles convicted men and women with a lifelong felony record, limiting their access to housing, employment and other assistance. Texas could reduce the charge to a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in a local county jail. Such a change would relieve crowded felony court dockets and save Texas millions in state prison spending, a percentage of which could be reinvested in county programs to address substance abuse.
Most individuals charged with felony possession crimes are not high-end drug dealers but petty users, often with substance abuse problems, whose behavior won’t be altered by prison time. Michael McSpadden, a Republican and longtime district court judge in Harris County, believes these penalties should be reduced. McSpadden and 11 fellow Harris County judges last year sent a letter to the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee saying that “the public has realized that draconian punishment of minor drug offenses as state jail felonies is not working, and as judges, we hear countless complaints from trial juries and grand juries who do not believe these cases should be tried as felonies.”
Texas’ punitive drug laws are out of sync with the public’s views and are costing state and local governments more than could possibly be justified by any public safety-based cost-benefit analysis. Adjusting these penalties would reduce the burden on taxpayers and let police and courts focus on more serious crime, better protecting everyone.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Correa: Time to adjust Texas drug laws
Ana Correa at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition had an essay this week in the Texas Tribune's "TribTalk" section titled, "It's time to reform Texas' drug laws." In particular, she argues for lowering penalties for possessing user-level amounts of marijuana (to a Class C misdemeanor) and less-than-a-gram of harder drugs (to a Class A misdemeanor) to save incarceration costs and focus more on treatment for people whose main crime is their addiction. The article closes: