Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Path cleared for reduced pot penalties in TX House

Chairman Joe Moody
Before yesterday's House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee hearing on Chairman Joe Moody's HB 81, which would reduce penalties for low levels of marijuana to a civil penalty, Grits commented to a friend that the over/under for how many people would testify against it IMO was probably 1.5.

"Under" won. Only one person spoke against the bill last night, Ector County DA Bobby Bland (not to be confused with the late, great blues singer of the same name, who would certainly have favored the measure).

Consider that: No police chiefs testified against. The Sheriff's Association laid off the bill. So did the Texas Probation Association and all its members. No anti-drug advocates were against it. No neighborhood associations. No mayors or city council members. No county commissioners. No teachers, or doctors, or mental health advocates. No judges. No police unions. None of those groups, or even individuals from their ranks, came out against the bill. Just one lone prosecutor from Odessa spoke against it, with DAs from larger jurisdictions all neutral or in favor. (See MSM coverage from the Express News.)

This remarkable development was not lost on Vice Chairman Todd Hunter, who for these purposes is more importantly the Chairman of the House Calendars Committee. That's the panel which sets bills that have passed out of committee for floor votes by the full House. He intoned in a warning-filled baritone that only one person had testified against the bill that night - Mr. Bland, the Ector DA - and the chairman did not expect to see anyone who had failed to oppose it in committee come out against HB 81 later in the process.

Chairman Todd Hunter
This was a significant caution, with an implicit threat behind it. As chair of the Calendars Committee, Hunter is in a position to punish special interests who don't heed his admonition by failing to set their other favored bills for floor votes. Only someone with no proactive agenda at the capitol at all would want to place themselves in those crosshairs, and that certainly doesn't include any of the interests listed above.

In all, this was a positive first step on a long path for HB 81. Last session, the bill got a hearing late and then was heard in a free-for-all alongside a pot-legalization bill that distracted from all the pragmatic arguments for Moody's measure. This time, the bill was heard in the second substantive hearing of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and, barring the unforeseen, should be voted out as early as next Monday.

Hunter's commentary makes me think the bill should receive a relatively warm reception in the Calendars Committee, which means we may FINALLY get to see a House floor vote on reducing marijuana penalties in Texas. Since the 2005 session, when a bill to reduce low-level penalties to a Class C cleared the same committee unanimously under then-Chair Terry Keel, Grits has believed the votes were there on the House floor to pass this bill or something similar, if the leadership would ever let it onto the floor. Maybe this is finally the year. It's about damn time!

In an aside: More than 4,500 Just Liberty supporters have sent emails to their state legislators supporting Moody's bill over the last three months, and we'll be going out again on the topic if and when it's out of committee. Go here to sign up if you're not already on the list.

26 comments:

Joorie Doodie said...

This is maybe a step in the right direction, but I'm a little wary of this "civil penalty" thing. Doesn't that bypass the Sixth Amendment? Will it reduce the burden from "reasonable doubt" to "preponderance of evidence?" The reason I'm asking is because certain cities and counties are bound to see this as a good source of revenue if they can fine people without a full blown conviction. That could mean more people getting accused of low-level marijuana possession that we have now.

And, I didn't see anything in the bill about keeping the records of such "civil" actions private. Cop accuses you of "possession" of pot that really belongs to your roommate and you get a "civil" penalty. It wouldn't give you a criminal record, but if it could be found on a data base by potential employers, landlords, etc., there could still be severe "collateral" consequences.

I say either decriminalize it or not.

Anonymous said...

Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. While full legalization is, in my opinion, inevitable, I'd rather see decriminalization in the interim than continue to saddle people with criminal convictions that will haunt them forever.

wolf sittler said...

If the voters of Texas were fairly represented at the Capitol, full legalization would pass. The same goes for increasing the use of community supervision as opposed to prison. Over-criminalization of private behavior will, one day, be a thing of the past. For now, however we
have the dubious distinction of watching too many politicians avoid the advice of Sam Houston to "Do right and risk the consequences".

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised Montgomery County's Village Idiot didn't show up to register his opposition to the bill. Poor fool, he just doesn't get it at all.

http://montgomerycountypolicereporter.com/district-attorney-brett-ligon-issues-response-marijuana-legalization/.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that more of our legislators don't pay attention to the for / against ratio when considering other measures.

Anonymous said...

And yet one more step toward Sodom and Gomorrah....no standards of decency whatsoever. If it feels good do it. And we wonder why people in the Middle East believe we're nothing but a bunch of secular infidels. Go figure.

Mystress said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nick said...

Anon 11:51, how does consuming THC have anything to do with Sodom and Gomorrah? What does it have to do with decency? I am a secular infidel with a moral compass, a pretty healthy amount of decency and a healthy appreciation for the good the cannabis plant can provide, be it for medicinal purposes or sheer relaxation/pleasure. I was once a teetotaler and now I am not, about the only thing that has changed is that I am way less anxious and a lot more relaxed. If it's immoral to you, then so be it, but your religious standards don't belong in my personal decision making. It shouldn't be up to the government what I can or cannot put into my body, nor you and your religious code. Have you ever partaken yourself?

Anonymous said...

For true cost of marijuana use see the budges of the following: MH/MR, CPS, Foster Care System.

Old Cop said...

Anon 11:51 do you mean the folks in the Middle East who gave us the greatest opium scourge in centuries are going to be pissed at us and call us "secular infidels" for attempting to reduce the penalties on weed heads for small amounts? Who cares.

Anonymous said...

You want the truth?!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhQlcMHhF3w

Anonymous said...

Joorie,

Civil penalties have not had such unintended results in the 15+ other states that have lessened penalties for cannabis to a civil fine. There is no evidence that it bypasses the 6th amendment. Find a constitutional court case and present it. There is no evidence that it will result in any sort of record that an employer could find. Once again, the burden is on you to present your case from the other states that have had civil penalties for years.

The reality is this bill doesn't legalize cannabis, but it certainly crafts a more rational policy that will allow law enforcement to better utilize its resources while giving otherwise law abiding cannabis users a break from ridiculous legal sanctions that are far too severe for the offense. Even if the number of offenses cited doubled, every offender would be in far better shape than they would be under our current laws, and so would tax payers and law enforcement. You do realize that Texas does jail repeat cannabis possession offenders, right? This bill would do away with that absurd practice. If people are suffering from cannabis dependence, they should get counseling and help, not be incarcerated which is far more expensive than treatment.

Anonymous said...

the Bible states what God put on this earth is meant for his people to partake and consume. there is no man made parts it grows like any other plant we harvest it when God gives it what it needs to grow and we let the beautiful sun dry it out then we smoke it. that my friend is all Gods doing. it has no science or man made in any of that. so by your definition every salad or steak or consumtion of any food that God provided us is no better then sodom and gomorrah? Did God put is on this earth to starve and die no we were placed here to live, flurish, and procreate.

Anonymous said...

I see nothing wrong with legalizing small quantities of all drugs now considered illegal but let's keep in mind that we all share the same road network so mind bending drugs need to be discouraged on the highways just like alcohol. As long as a person goes home from a bar or evening party in the back seat of a taxi I couldn't care less what the thrill seeker consumed. It is somewhat disconcerting to see how much money people are willing to spend on drugs yet they rarely seem to have enough for a health insurance policy to cover future results of a vicarious lifestyle---organ transplants are a bit pricey----I would rather my health insurance premiums not be hiked to pay for the consequences of other people's hobbies-----fair is fair. All I ask is that people PAY THEIR OWN WAY in terms of health costs resulting from "getting their jollies."

Anonymous said...

Too true-----everyone blathers about their so called rights but few want to discuss their responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

To anon 01:56:00..so if we take your argument further, cocaine is perfectly ok to use to?? I mean..it comes from a plant as well. EVERYTHING on this entire planet could fall under your argument. Get real dude....that is a bogus argument.

Herman A said...

If you don't like cannabis, don't use it, but my cannabis use isn't hurting you, so please don't interrupt my flow.

John Shuey said...

Anonymous? Yeah, I wouldn't sign my name to that gibberish either.

Anonymous said...

Basically, what a person does with marijuana is up to them. However, if they decide to get high and then drive, I don't want to meet them on the highway any more than I want to meet some on the highway who's drunk. Is there a test yet to determine if someone is high on marijuana at a given time? Would law enforcement even be able to charge someone for DWI-marijuana?

Mr1Gache said...

THIS LAW NEEDS TO BE PUT IN PLACE, AS A BABY STEP, TO BE LOOKED AT AGIN FOR CONSIDERATION LATER, FOR JUSTICE'S SAKE, STOP THIS WAR ON MARIJUANA!!!!! I am Gache...listen to the truth its time Americans, stop this war on POT! follow me on Twitter account: Mr1Gache, I tell the truth. And I'm from Fort Worth. TEXAS

Anonymous said...

As for cocaine---well, for years it was in Coca-Cola and nobody complained. Why was it removed? That is an interesting case study by itself. I don't use it and I don't recommend it but millions of Americans love it---should they all be put in jail or should those who use it simply be fined when they are caught with it? Same for the other drugs-----as long as a person isn't endangering others by, say, operating a motor vehicle while under the influence a tolerant attitude should prevail. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, perhaps? A man's home is his castle, perhaps? What is the reality here? The reality is that tens of millions of Americans do this stuff everyday---and the national debt increases by how much daily? Is there a monetary solution here---I think yes. I am talking about small quantity here, for anything. Large quantities are a revenue issue and the IRS should seize assets until the dealer cries uncle. By the way, for all you bible thumpers, what does "the book" say about drugs? The reality here is that Texas taxpayers are paying for a huge jobs program called the court/prison system and there is no payoff whatsoever. In 1969 president Nixon said "we are winning the war against drugs" and the clueless applauded. Wake up people---you are being had yet one more time.

Pablo Escobar

Anonymous said...

I went to Afghanistan in 2003 and spent two-years working there. Warlords were just beginning to grow poppy plants again as they had been prohibited from doing so under the Taliban. By 2005 when I left the crops were huge, more heroin was being produced than ever before. So much was being produced that the warlords couldn't sell it all, even at greatly reduced prices, and a market glut was created.

In steps the DEA, who were fast becoming irrelevant in the face of declining support for the drug war, so in 2006 it ordered district attorneys and other law enforcement agencies all across the country to begin cracking down on pain clinics and the doctors who prescribed pain medications. This created a market for the previously unmarketable heroin as addicts were now forced to the streets to get their fix.

Don't kid yourself, the heroin epidemic was created by the government. Not much different than the Opium Wars waged by Great Britain against China during the mid-19th century.

Anonymous said...

The top of the drug pyramids are always white in color and only after retirement with pension safe in hand do DEAers start to talk honestly---albeit in whispers even then.

Read up on the Iran contra affair and see how the government used drugs to pay for small wars in central America.

Anonymous said...

Compare the health costs of cocaine, in terms of death and hospital bills, to, say that of tobacco and alcohol. Granted, we all die eventually, but let's get honest with ourselves after decades of delusion. Conservatives tend to be blind when it comes to things like drugs. Drug kingpin laws work far better than jail. Taking houses, cars, boats, jewelry, bank accounts and other personal property adds to the state coffers whereas jail merely costs everybody a fortune. Let us forsake the redneck "get even" mentality and wacko version of pseudo Christian retribution in exchange for keeping the budget in the black-----and scaring drug empires so they hastily relocate in other states. Now that is how you reduce drug usage without buying police helicopters and grotesquely expensive computer systems that might work half the time. Jail should be limited to those that pose a physical threat to the rest of us. Keep in mind that there are many that would rather be in jail than on the outside since they don't want to work and like the idea of YOU paying for 3 hots and a cot daily.

Anonymous said...

It started under the Ann Richardson regime, the idea that incarceration would be a great jobs program. Now, if a person is unable to pass the local police exam they can still carry a gun, badge and beat up on crippled senior citizen convicts in the guise of being a "corrections" officer.
Pathetic---and doggone expensive for the declining portion of the population that actually pays taxes and doesn't live off of programs.

Anonymous said...

Jailing for debt. Crime does pay and some rake in 100K or more a year but the way they go through it they've got noting to show for it. So naturally we wring our hands over the fact that they blew it all on strip joints, drugs, etc. and had no money for the judge.