Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Missouri law shows Texas' HB 254 can work

As the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Commttee today considers postponed legislation to restructure sentences for low-level marijuana possession, news comes via Libby that a similar initiative in Columbia, MO is doing a great job of enhancing enforcement while freeing up space in the county jail.
Columbia police have ticketed more people per month for misdemeanor possession of marijuana since voters approved Proposition 2 in November, but most are not being prosecuted. First-time offenders are given a second chance as part of the municipal court’s marijuana deferral program. ...

More than 200 defendants have been put on the deferral list and been kept out of the courtroom since November.

Though law enforcement interests offered doomsday predictions, the change in Columbia's law has actually led to a doubling of enforcement efforts on pot -- twice as many in Columbia received tickets as had previously been arrested.

Today many Texas jails, espcially in the bigger counties, face an overcrowding problem similar to what's happening at the state level. The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this afternoon will consider HB 254 by Dutton. That bill is stronger than Columbia's law, since it would would extract stiff fines from small-time pot smokers on the first offense. But it still has the benefit of saving taxpayer money instead of spending ever-greater sums on failed incarceration strategies.

See the fact sheet reformers are using to promote HB 254, plus prior Grits coverage.

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