Saturday, January 19, 2013

Reduced pot penalties would draw bipartisan support, if members get to vote

A Dallas News staff editorial yesterday titled "More sensible drug laws" began thusly:
The point is being made by both sides of the political spectrum: Prisons and jails are needlessly stuffed with low-level drug offenders
Just this month in Austin, the state’s muscular Texas Association of Business joined the conservative think tank Texas Public Policy Foundation in advocating for less expensive and more effective approaches than incarceration for small amounts of illicit drugs.

On the other side of the political spectrum, a new report from the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition clarified how much these prison-for-possession cases are costing taxpayers: $700,000 a day, just for those sent to state lockups in 2011.
"With the ends of the political spectrum seemingly aligned on this issue," opined the paper's editorial board, "lawmakers need to meet them in the middle and take these reform proposals seriously." In particular, the paper joined those groups in endorsing expanded use of drug courts and community based treatment, but also backed a suggestion to lower penalties for low-level pot possession:
the Legislature should address penalties for the lower-level drug crimes, such as possessing an ounce or less of marijuana. That is now a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail. Under a bill by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, the offense would be reclassified as a Class C misdemeanor, which typically brings no jail time and a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenders would be subject to Class B penalties.

This bill is the way Texas drug laws should be headed. For one, it makes financial sense, since jail time soaks up tax dollars and courts are obligated to furnish an attorney to indigent defendants charged with Class B misdemeanors.

In 2007, lawmakers tried to cut the number of drug-possession and other nonviolent defendants in county jails by dropping the requirement that they be arrested and held for trial. But many cities and counties have not exercised the option to write summonses for low-level drug suspects and continue to book them into jails. Once there, many poor young people won’t make bail and are often headed to a life in the criminal justice system.
The furthest Rep. Dutton ever got with this bill was during the 79th Texas Legislature in 2005, when similar legislation passed unanimously out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, then led by Chairman Terry Keel, a former Republican Sheriff from Travis County. Grits at the time worked with ACLU of Texas and remembers the vote well. Surprisingly, the usual tuff-on-crime suspects backed off when it appeared the legislation had bipartisan momentum, with nobody testifying in opposition at the committee hearing. The bill stalled, though, in the Calendars committee, we were told at the time because then-Speaker Tom Craddick wanted to "protect the members" from having to vote on it in what was only the second session Republicans had controlled the Texas House since Reconstruction. Counting heads, though, advocates working at the time for the bill's passage were pretty sure we had the votes, perhaps even headed into the triple digits. (Never getting a chance to test the waters on the House floor on that bill was one of several major disappointments that session.)

Given that experience, I've believed for while that, if given the chance, Texas' Republican majority, at least in the House, would likely support lowering the penalty categories for low-level pot possession. There are so many new members who've arrived since then that Grits doesn't have as good a sense of what a final head count might look like. (State Rep. Debbie Riddle is the only member remaining from that unanimous committee vote.) But with the Texas Association of Business and the Texas Public Policy Foundation providing conservative ideological cover and a different Speaker in power, the 83rd Texas Legislature would be an excellent time to find out.


Terri LeClercq said...

Wouldn't it be marvelous if the Texas Congress actually voted to cahnge the draconian drug laws? Perhaps if enough of us called/emailed our new reps, they could at least get the bills to the floor!

Anonymous said...

Lowering penalties hell,,the war on drugs is one of the stupidest policies our country has attempted since we wrote the bill of rights,,and the most wasted funds ever spent accomplishing nothing but making criminals wealthy and keeping industrialized prisons full.

You cannot legislate morality or threaten people into obedience,especially when you are talking about freedom of what a person does to themselves that harms no one else.

That marijuana causes any harms now is because of the laws,,not because of inherent dangers in the plant.

After 40 years of research and the best the NIDA can come up with is "possible links" or "may cause" hazards without any real scientific proof of harm,,and they have spent millions of dollars searching for harm in marijuana,,so much that the GAO will not report how much money NIDA has spent searching for harm.

A drug that isn't physically addictive,,with a addictive rating the same as caffeine,,has never caused a death and cannot be eradicated or even slowed down,,and legislators protecting their corporate funding,,are not justification to keep locking non-violent people in jails for,much less prison.

I keep hoping Texas legislators will tire of sending billions of untaxed dollars to support Mexico's economy and keep it here,,as if we don't have farmers in TX that could produce enough to eradicate the black market and we don't need the jobs.

Anonymous said...

Never caused a death huh? I guess you've never seen someone who was so high they couldn't operate a vehicle and caused a fatal accident. It may not be as prevalent as alcohol fatalities, but it happens. And I've personally met many violent weed smokers. I'd hazard a guess that mute than hHalf the ganbangers out there smoke weed.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:58, by your standard we should outlaw booze, cigarettes, xanax and guns as well. Marijuana literally can not kill you. There is no fatal dose.

Really, quit living in fear of other people's freedom. It sounds like you have never, or can not, think your way through a serious policy issue. Wait, are you Rick Perry?

Making marijuana illegal was a mistake our grandparents and their government made years ago, it's not one we still should have to live with.

Unknown said...

I hear that the CCA has some Austin pals.

Anonymous said...

If you think smoking pot has no adverse effect on you, then you have been smoking too much. Pilots and the FAA take pot use SERIOUSLY as it has measurable negative effects. From the publication "Cannibis And Its Effects On Pilot Performance And Flight Safety: A Review" -

"The adverse effects of cannabis on behaviour, cognitive function and psychomotor performance are dose-dependent and related to task difficulty. Complex tasks such as driving or flying are particularly sensitive to the performance impairing effects of cannabis. Chronic cannabis use is associated with a number of adverse health effects, and there is evidence suggesting the development of tolerance to chronic use as well as a well-defined withdrawal syndrome. There is also evidence that the residual effects of cannabis can last up to 24 hours. Significantly, the modern dose of cannabis is much more potent than in the past, when the majority of the research was conducted. As such, the reported adverse health effects may well be conservative. Although only a limited number of studies have examined the effects of cannabis on pilot performance, the results overall have been consistent. Flying skills deteriorate, and the number of minor and major errors committed by the pilot increase, while at the same time the pilot is often unaware of any performance problems. Cannabis use in a pilot is therefore a significant flight safety hazard."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:48, Dutton's bill has nothing to do with driving while high, which would still fall under the same penalty categories it's at now.

Anonymous said...

6:48, that's some great insight. Obviously the point of the article is that we should allow pilots to fly while intoxicated and you really destroyed that argument.

Anonymous said...

Are you kidding? You think that reducing the penalties for marijuana possession means that the airlines must "allow pilots to fly 'intoxicated' on marijuana?" What kind of goofy fear-mongering is that?

Who wrote that? Could it be an agency of the same federal government that says, all medical research to the contrary, that marijuana has no legitimate medical use? It talks about increasing tolerance, withdrawal symptoms and lingering effects up to 24 hours after ingestion. These are lies. Blatant lies. Read the report of the Shafer Commission, the only major study of marijuana ever produced by the federal government. Richard Nixon requested it in 1972. Its conclusions are that marijuana is mostly harmless and it recommended lowering the penalties for its possession and use. That's not what Nixon wanted to hear, so the results were ignored.

Anonymous said...

Pot has no more of an effect on someone than alcohol. Its not a good idea to drive a car or operate machinery while under the influence of alcohol and the same goes for marijuana. This is pretty much common sense and arguing about it makes no sense. Now as for the pot laws. Possession of less than a pound should be a class C misdemeanor and all felony possession laws should be reduced to class B or A misdemeanor. This would be a huge step toward legalization.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous @ 9:58

You can count on one hand the number of people that have died in an accident with a pot user where the accident was the fault of the pot using driver,,however,,there are numerous traffic accidents where the pot using driver did not cause the accident but since they had pot in their system,,detection of inert thc metabolites that do not designate impairment,,and they were charged with DUID anyway.

Every driving simulator testing of driver while high on marijuana has shown little to no impairment,,even the tests administered by the NTSB.
You really need to do some research before spreading fear mongering propaganda.

Anonymous said...

10:46, you have got to be kidding. It's not 1972, and there are far better studies on the effect of pot on driving and other tasks. Here's a quote form the abstract of one of MANY modern day studies:

"Subjects are more attracted by intrapersonal stimuli ("self") and fail to attend to task performance, leading to an insufficient allocation of task-oriented resources and to sub-optimal performance. These effects correlate with the subjective feeling of confusion rather than with the blood level of Δ(9)-Tetrahydrocannabinol. These findings bolster the zero-tolerance policy adopted in several countries that prohibits the presence of any amount of drugs in blood while driving."

(from: "Weed or wheel! FMRI, behavioural, and toxicological investigations of how cannabis smoking affects skills necessary for driving.")

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To be clear, nobody including me or Harold Dutton has suggested reducing penalties for driving while stoned, and this bill only lowers the penalty category for low-level possession by one notch, it's not a legalization bill by a longshot.

I do agree that in general pot is safer than alcohol, but that's neither here nor there when it comes to driving. Even in places like CO and WA where voters have approved full-blown legalization, their laws about driving while high haven't changed, and won't.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, if you had asked GFB readers' to guess the 2011 taxpayer's portion of the Texas TAB, none of us would have come close to $700.000 per day (*that's not including the plea bargain & flee fees they left out). That in itself is a WTF? moment and deserves a national Holiday so we aren't allowed to learn it & forget it. Too easy?

Despite this amount being simply ridiculous, it leaves me wondering why the Businessmen & Businesswomen of Texas haven't tried to get some of this money pie by now for their friends with (corporations') aka: treatment center(s) and investment ambitions of stockholders'. Or have they?

Why else would the dues paying folks' in TAB decide to speak up for the taxpayers' & against the historical fake war on a plant and the ones that are arrested for possessing / burning it. I guess this is a WFT? addressed to Mr. Hammond. If he ever visits GFB, maybe he'll come clean. Until then we really don't know what's up the cuff linked sleeves'.

*And I haven't heard a word about the business class (TAB) advocating for the removal of pre-employment ‘Application’ loopholes / hurdles preventing folks from being hired in the first place. Haven't heard a word about the TAB folks announcing any Re-Entry Employment Opportunities (within the first 30 days of release) for those that paid debts to society.

Until then, we'll never know their true intentions above saving taxes so they'll be spent elsewhere. I hope to root out any further acts of Cherry Picking for Justice before the stain sets in. I'm with them for the moment and will bail the moment I smell a pig in a three piece.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

To: TAB, I challenge you to put your collective money (Funds) where your collective business / political aspirations are regarding this public stance on behalf of us the Taxpayers' at large.

Consider setting up permanent Employment Career Fairs / Conventions in at least 10 to 20 cities (including Huntsville), which are publically advertised as immediate (next day) employment opportunities for applicants' that are released from serving time and / or completed Probation for possession of a controlled substance.

Positions that pay at least $1.75 over min. wage after a 60 day (not 90, not 120) probation (where the employee pays for monthly U.A. test at no more than $25. per test & the employer pays the remainder), then after one year, at least $2.75 above min. wage.

*Those with no criminal record should have already been making at least $2.50 above min. wage and those that survive the one year mark should've already been awarded at least $3.75 above min. wage. At some point the business owners' have to wake up and realize that folks aren't happy working for peanuts which results in constant employee turn-over due to: firing, quitting in front of customers, bad attitudes, low morale, employee theft, being taken advantage of because their probation requires them to be employed & worse.

Minimum wages reserved for the first 6 months for all high school & college students. Or do away with wages that folks can't pay bills on.

Anything less will be nothing but the same ol same ol, as GFB readers' have pointed to as history simply repeating itself. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

While I agree that lowering the crime to a class c misdemeanor, I am concerned that people would be more likely to just pay a fine and get a conviction. Indigent defendants would not be entitled to a court appointed lawyer and any drug conviction, no matter how minor, can have dire consequences.
Those seeking to adjust their immigration status could face deportation over a ticket. Young people trying to get federal student loans would face problems as well.
Lastly, it could allow 4th Amendment violations to go unnoticed. After all, it would only be a ticket and it would cost less for a defendant to pay the fine than to hire a lawyer.