Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ho hum reaction to civil-pot-penalty bill a positive sign

Reactions are still rolling in to Rep. Joe Moody's proposal to reduce low-level marijuana possession to a civil offense with a $100 fine. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram chimed in with a favorable editorial (12/16), opining that "The cost of policing, prosecuting and punishing violators of Texas’ still stringent marijuana laws is enormous — in dollars, the toll on individuals and the burden on the overall criminal justice system."

Then, (12/16) offered one of the first stories featuring local reactions as opposed to just covering the press conference. Of particular note were the grudgingly favorable comments from the Cameron County DA:
"To a certain extent, I agree with the proposal, but let me first make it perfectly clear that myself and this office, does not endorse the use of marijuana," Luis Saenz, the Cameron County District Attorney, said.
If the new bill is approved, it would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Saenz said the county has limited resources when young offenders go to jail for offense.
It's costing them thousands of dollars, and he said Moody's proposal is nothing new.
"In my office when they have a first time offender with less than a third of marijuana, typically we don't file the case," Saenz said.
Grits predicts this will become a recurring theme: Law enforcement officials will oppose Moody's bill less vehemently than one might expect - and in some, surprising instances, support it - because, in practice, they don't have resources to pursue these cases, anyway. Even Smith County Sheriff Larry Smith, who dislikes Moody's bill, says his agency does "not vehemently enforce the marijuana laws." His deputies don't "go out a looking for that," he explained, "but if we run across it, we get it."

In another outside-the-press-conference reaction, Angelica Leicht at the Houston Press suggested that Moody doesn't go far enough, declaring that "Marijuana laws in Texas are pretty darn ridiculous in their current state, and perhaps it's time for a mass overhaul." She took aim in particular at "Three ridiculous pot laws in Texas" and, though attorneys may nitpick at her characterizations, the reaction does show that some Texans will find Moody's medicine to be weak tea, particularly after seeing what voters accomplished in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and (tentatively) D.C..

Others, of course, will inevitably weep and wail that, if Moody's bill passes, babies and old people will die, pot smoking hippies will entice schoolchildren into lives of vice, and many other terrible and highly improbable things will definitely, absolutely, immediately happen that should make us all very, very afraid. But judging from the tepid, initial response to Moody's bill, and the lack of vehement opposition to related bills in committee in years past, perhaps the reaction to Moody's civil-offense idea may be less strident than one might have guessed.

MORE: From Texas Monthly.


Anonymous said...

Grits: Why was my comment removed?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't recall removing one from this string, or any in recent days ... are you sure you put it under the right post?

Anonymous said...

Calm before the storm. Cops will get around to opposing it. Right now they're Christmas shopping.

TriggerMortis said...

While politics and fear mongering will definitely play a part in deciding this, we cannot overlook the bigger part that money will play.

In every state where voters have been allowed to decide the issue, alcohol manufacturers and law enforcement organizations have united to contribute large amounts of cash to try and keep the current laws on the books, and since this isn't even going to be decided by voters, look for police unions and the alcohol industry to silence support with a few hundred thousand in lobbying expenses.

Texas politicians don't have enough balls to overcome the anti-gambling crowd let alone the gumption to address real change in drug laws. IMO, Moody's bill will die in committee.

Cynthia Robinson said...

I've experienced the Texas wrath of Marijuana laws. I had 6 grams, went to jail, lost my license, and Texas surcharges......8+ years ago!
Now, a Drug Class at a cost of $180.
Money Hungry State!

Anonymous said...

Agree 100% with you 8:24 all about the $$$$ yep the big T is a money hungry state 4sure my family knows 1st. hand!

Anonymous said...

This is a perennial proposal. And it always dies in the end.

Joorie Doodie said...

If this becomes a "civil" penalty, does that lower the "burden" necessary to establish an offense from "beyond reasonable doubt" to "preponderence of evidence?" I'm guessing there will still be a record in a database somewhere indicating the offender was found to be in possession of marijuana. Couldn't that lead to some of the same collateral consequences--loss of job, limiting access to housing, loss of professional license--making the civil ruling that a person had marijuana result in a 'sentence' of lifelong stigmatization? All without the "due process" we now associate with criminal convictions! And don't you worry that local governments are going to be licking their chops when they see the potential revenue from this the way they see the money in red-light cameras? Coudn't that lead to more citations for marijuana possession once local governments don't have to incur the costs of arresting and processing offenders through the legal justice system?

Anonymous said...


I can't tell if all of your questions are sincere or not.

The bill states the name of the offender is "confidential information under Section 552.101, Government Code." I don't know the extent of this protection, but it's not difficult to imagine that it is a lot more private than a criminal record.

As for your concerns of more citations, you understand that right now law enforcement is arresting people for one ounce or less, correct? Are you actually trying to pretend like this will make an offender worse off than the status quo? I can't imagine how this would be the case.

I'm not sure what it may do to lower the burden, but laws like this have worked for decades in other states without increasing use or resulting in any significant form of disorder. I've never heard of any criminal justice or marijuana reform groups arguing to bring back criminal sanctions instead of civil ones. As I said, I can't tell if you are being serious or not.