Thursday, March 03, 2005

Bill to reduce pot penalties up on Tuesday

Quite a few people have emailed or asked in the comments what's happening with proposed legislation to reduce penalties for the lowest level pot possession offenses. Well, you won't have to wait long for more news.

HB 254 by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, will be heard in the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday. The legislation would restructure low-level pot possession offenses from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C offense. (Grits previously discussed the bill here.) That change would help solve overcrowding in county jails, reduce local indigent defense costs (counties must pay for lawyers for B misdemeanor defendants, but not C misdemeanors, which are the equivalent of expensive traffic tickets), and actually raise revenue instead of soak the taxpayers indefinitely.

Jails in most Texas counties of any size are basically full. If it weren't for the fear and inertia that keeps institutional political players from taking risks -- like going against the tough-on-crime orthodoxy regarding marijuana -- this legislation would pass in a heartbeat. It's a win-win for everybody concerned. It raises revenue, reduces jail overcrowding, and would free up a lot of scarce police resources to do more important things.

It'll be fascinating to see who, if anybody, opposes Dutton's bill. I'm not sure any significant political interest, really, in practice, has a problem with it. The barriers to passage are more intangible, in the minds of the legislators who must approve it, not from folks vocally opposing the bill. Just a little bit of political cover -- say from counties making practical and financial arguments to address jail overcrowding -- and the bill might have some legs. A lot depends on what happens on Tuesday. I'll be watching.


Taylor said...

Just a reminder to Grits readers, if you haven't yet, please take the time to contact your elected officials.

Check out this Fox News Article here:,2933,149303,00.html

Morgan said...

I am very interested in the outcome of the medical marijuana situation in every state across the nation. I have multiple sclerosis and take drugs for a pain originating from my lower spine but radiating throughout my entire body. The pain, which occurs every two to three seconds, feels like I am being zapped with a cattle prod. If I am out of my wheelchair and standing, it can bring me to the floor. When I was in the hospital two summers ago having my gallbladder removed, the morphine I received could not even touch the MS pain because they were different, i.e., one was muscular, while the other was nerve related. That whole "just say no" campaign of a few presidencies ago created a bunch of nonthinking sheep. It's time to wake up.