Thursday, April 09, 2015

Texas House committee debates pot policy

Grits just finished a long night in a House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on drug sentencing policy (among other things), culminating in what Chairmen Harold Dutton and Todd Hunter took to calling a "joint" session hearing several marijuana bills simultaneously. Rep. Joe Moody's HB 507 creating a civil penalty for marijuana is the bill most likely to pass and the one supported by the mainstream marijuana lobby (there's three words you never thought you'd see together!).

But nearly all the drama this evening centered around Rep. David Simpson's HB 2165 which would end marijuana prohibition for Texans 21 and over. I was pleased and proud that Ana Correa, Executive Director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, for whom your correspondent is working as a consultant, asked me to testify in favor of Simpson's bill. I told the committee that, although nobody expects the bill to pass, when a legislator stands up to speak the truth on these topics, we'd stand with him. Polling shows the public is way ahead of the politicians on this issue.

Moody has a great bill for which your correspondent also testified. HB 507 will keep 65-70,000 people per year from being arrested and taken to jail. Instead, they'd receive a ticket that's technically a civil, not a criminal offense. Why is that important? Because there are mandatory federal collateral consequences that come with a state drug conviction (starting with losing one's driver's license and eligibility for student loans), so making it a civil penalty provides tremendous relief, mitigating long-term harms from an episode of youthful misbehavior. That would be huge.

But like I said, all the drama at the hearing came from Simpson's bill. It's amazing how the medical and legalize-it memes have morphed, and Simpson promotes that joining more than anybody. For many years, I've resisted that trend, hoping to segregate "criminal justice" from "medical" issues in public policy arguments. But it's no longer possible to stage a public discussion of pot policy of any magnitude in Texas that distinguishes the two, whatever one's personal, mental categorizations.

Rep. David Simpson's HB 2165, the legalize-it bill that stole Rep. Moody's rightful spotlight this evening wasn't ever a serious proposal in the sense that it had a snowball's chance of passing in 2015. Tonight's hearing didn't change that. But in another sense, it's more serious than any other marijuana policy bill filed this session because it dares to comment on the Emperor's naked visage.

I'm sure there will be tons of MSM coverage of the event tomorrow, and I'll update this post with links en la maƱana. 

MORE: Less coverage than I expected, though I enjoyed the next-day Dallas News headline, "Texas Young Republicans support decriminalizing marijuana." Other, less sanguine MSM coverage from the hearing included:

1 comment:

Jordan said...

Amazing what all has been happening in Texas lately. Here's hoping that even if the bill doesn't pass, the House sees what the Texan public truly wants.