Sunday, January 30, 2005

Aggie columnist: Bill would solve problems, promote freedom

Columnist Mark McCaig of The Battalion, Texas A&M's school newspaper, gives a big thumbs up to HB 254:
Every once in awhile, an idea will come across the Texas Legislature that will solve more problems than it creates and actually promotes individual freedom rather than taking it away. State Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has one of these ideas.

House Bill 254, filed on Dec. 20, will amend the state's drug laws to decrease the penalty of possession of one ounce or less of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor. Such an offense is comparable to a traffic ticket, carrying a fine of up to $500.
I like seeing this column because I'm sick and tired of this being portrayed as a liberal issue. It's not. McCaig sees a conservative cost benefit analysis, and upon examination finds that the arguments mustered against lowering the penalties amount to a "war on common sense":

This bill does not legalize marijuana. All it does is prevent individuals from going to jail for making a personal choice that does not endanger others. Yet, this bill has a very slim chance of being seriously considered in the legislature, let alone becoming a law. Sadly, the war on drugs has also, in many ways, become a war on common sense.

The average marijuana user - as long as he isn't driving while high - poses absolutely no threat to others. While it can be argued that the government should prevent people from engaging in harmful behavior, marijuana is no more harmful than many other substances that are legal.
McCaig doubts lowering penalties would increase marijuana use (in Britain, lowering penalties to a fine diminished drug use among young people), but he sees public safety benefits from reducing penalties that make a lot of sense:
Marijuana decriminalization also frees up the resources of our police, courts and jails to deal with criminals who are committing offenses that actually harm society. By allowing the police to catch thieves instead of pot smokers, these scarce resources can be used for the benefit of society. We are not any safer or better off because a marijuana smoker is locked up behind bars.
McCaig's pessimism about the legislation's chances certainly is the conventional wisdom. But I think that the bipartisan pragmatism displayed by the Legislature so far on corrections policy, coupled with the big picture overincarceration crisis, plus some inescapable financial incentives will force the Lege to look at this option in conjunction with other proposals to preserve prison space for people who actually pose a danger, if not this spring, then in 2007.

Via the Liberty Index.

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