Friday, January 04, 2019

Prospects for reduced marijuana penalties in the 86th #txlege

The Texas Legislature this year is primed for its most serious effort yet at reducing penalties for user-level marijuana possession.

Legalization is off the table. This is a debate about reducing punishments. (I'm setting aside here medical marijuana proposals, which Grits doesn't track closely and are outside my area of expertise.)

There are essentially two proposals for reducing pot penalties that have a chance, and each have been endorsed by prominent Texas GOP officials.

Gov. Greg Abbott during a campaign debate endorsed reducing penalties for up to two ounces of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. That would reduce the maximum punishment from six months in jail and a $2,000 fine to no jail and up to a $500 fine.

Rep. Alma Allen has filed HB 371 making possession of up to one ounce a Class C, so our Republican governor has proposed a more aggressive reform measure than this Democratic state rep. (Grits doesn't see any reason to create a new stair-step here; they should amend the bill to cover up to 2 ounces, like the Governor suggested.)

Meanwhile, the 2018 state GOP platform endorsed a measure to make user-level marijuana possession a civil penalty with a small fine, essentially decriminalizing but keeping it a civil infraction.

State Rep. Joe Moody has filed a new incarnation of that proposal, HB 63, which cleared committee with bipartisan support in 2017.

The combination of the Governor's endorsement and selection of a new House Speaker opens the political door for reforms to pass.

Both proposals have been passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee before - a version of the Allen bill unanimously did so as far back as 2005 - but neither ever received a vote on the House floor. 

Joe Straus had many chances to let members take that vote when he was Speaker and never would, so him leaving potentially gives the issue new legs. That both the party platform and the Governor endorsed marijuana reform in some fashion gives members more political cover than at any time in the past.

Indeed, since polling consistently shows Texans favor reduced pot penalties, the need for political cover is something pols only seek out of habit. It's pretty clear this is a popular policy that will benefit them politically. Based on whip counts from last session when we were hoping the Moody bill would get to the House floor, Grits believes the measure will easily pass the lower chamber by triple figures if they ever get to vote on it.

That said, nothing about this is a slam dunk.

Every bill in the Texas Legislature except the Appropriations package is by definition more likely to fail than to pass. And while the Governor has endorsed reducing penalties, the Lt. Governor's position remains a mystery. It remains to be seen if he's as respectful of the party platform when it comes to marijuana as he has been over bathrooms, immigration, etc..

And just because a Speaker who stymied reform left, that doesn't ensure the new Speaker will back it, even if the Governor and/or his party's platform do.

Finally, as one would expect, prosecutors and police unions are already crapping on the idea. Their biggest (stated) concern is that there's no test for drivers to tell if someone is under the influence of pot. But that's true now! Nothing changes if we punish pot possession at lesser levels. And again, legalization is off the table. So that seems disingenuous to me, an excuse for opposition rather than a compelling reason.

Bottom line: This is a moment for hope and optimism among marijuana reformers. But it's also the moment to get to work. There's a lot to be done before such changes become reality.


Gadfly said...

Related to the medical marijuana side, per the new farm bill, is legalization of hemp at the federal level, a source of CBD. Whether Texas will allow it at the state level is an open question.

MCJ said...

This is so overdue it is not even funny. Incarcerating people for small amounts of marijuana is stupid. I support the civil measure.

Unknown said...

At least it may be a step forward towards reality.
Are there any provisions in any of the filed bills that eliminates the most Draconian provision of the current laws?
I'm talking about the mandatory 6 month license suspension for a class B conviction on a pot charge.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Personally I don't give a damn one way or the other. But you crybabies want to reward lawbreakers ... likely like yourselves.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Semper Fine, the civil penalty would stop that. If they keep it a C, they'll still do it. That's a federal consequence. That's the big difference btwn the two - the civil penalty avoids more collateral consequences.

BGB, it's beyond me how you can be for debtors prison reforms but against this. To me, it's the same issue: Hoovering low-income people up for petty BS that doesn't impact public safety.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Scott, there is a world of difference between debtors prison and deliberately breaking the law, and you of all people know it.

And where do you get that BS of pot not impacting public safety? Try telling that to the victims of deadly car crashes in Washington and Colorado where the offending drivers were found to be under the influence of pot. And even in California where the legalization of marijuana only recently went into effect, the CHP already reports a significant increase in pot related car crashes.

Scott, could it be that you have been smoking too much funny tobacco?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BGB, the folks with Class Cs broke the law, too, you just pick and choose with whom you sympathize.

Since there's no test to tell if someone is driving under the influence of pot, your comments about WA and CA are at best (probably self-interested) guesswork by cops. All they can tell is if somebody smoked pot in the last 30 days.

Finally, nobody in Texas is talking about legalization. It would still be illegal. So I'm not sure why you think the number of folks using it would rise. It's not like enacting Gov. Abbott's proposal would open up weed shops on every corner. Quite the opposite.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Scott, you really have been smoking too much funny tobacco. I didn't pick and choose who to sympathize with. You wrote about marijuana and that's what I responded to.

And you are completely off base about your 'guesswork by cops.' Those reports from Colorado, Washington and by the CHP are based on the findings of medical examiners, not some roadside tests.

Furthermore, the only 'legalization' I mentioned was that in California. But even in Texas, innocent people get killed by drivers under the influence of pot, so cut out that crap about marijuana not impacting public safety.

Scott, I know several people who know you personally. The all say you're a great guy. I don't doubt that for one New York minute. But like your fellow lefties, too often you see the matters you write about through the eyes of a lawbreaker, not through the eyes of a crime victim.

At times it seems as though you are waging a war on cops. That's why Grits for Breakfast attracts so many cop haters. And unfortunately, that's why my police friends say you're an asshole.

Anonymous said...

BGB, I've been a crime victim, the police were useless, so don't pretend to speak for victims.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@BGB, no one in TX is proposing legalization at the Lege, and as long as it's kept illegal, your assumption that pot would become more widely available is simply false. You're arguing against a policy no one proposes - it's a full-blown red herring.

How we got from reducing pot penalties to "waging a war on cops" is beyond me. But if your police friends who say I'm an asshole (Oh heavens, whatever shall I do? Just the thought gives me the vapors!) think THAT's an attack on them, I certainly can't be held responsible for their myopic delusions, nor yours.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and MEs also have no test to tell if someone was high at the time or just had pot in the system from days or weeks ago, so their assumptions are "guesswork," too.

Anonymous said...

And while we are at it, go ahead and build the wall. Not a wall to deal with immigration but a wall to ensure marijuana farmers in America will not have to compete with illegal marijuana coming from Mexico.

Anonymous said...

If a war on cops means we stop arresting low level pot posessers and start actually investigating sexual assault cases instead of administratively closing them, then I for one am all for it!

Anonymous said...

Any time someone blows bgb's arguments out of the water he falls back to the lame ass "cop haters" routine. Lol

BarkGrowlBite said...

Scott, are you out of your ever loving mind? I've said nothing whatsoever about legalizing marijuana in Texas nor did I say anything that would cause you to say "your assumption that pot would become more widely available."

All I said was that even in Texas (where pot has not been legalized as opposed to California, etc.), innocent people get killed by drivers under the influence of pot. And that was in response to your absurd claim that marijuana "doesn't impact public safety."

Furthermore, you are absolutely wrong when you say "MEs also have no test to tell if someone was high at the time or just had pot in the system from days or weeks ago." They can tell by the level of THC in the blood whether or not a person was driving under the influence of pot. When a toxicology test finds THC exceeded 5 ng/ml, that is generally considered by the medical profession as evidence that the ingested marijuana resulted in a fatal car crash. No guesswork there!

Your far fetched responses to my comments now lead me to believe you might be a stoner.

DLW said...

Especially with the comments of BGB, this NHTSA paper might be of interest:

Anonymous said...

Colorblind eyewitnesses? Tragic. Also, do not be confused by the three distinctly different last names in the family unit as I was.

Unknown said...

Amen to this comment! I to have been a victim of real crimes and the police were completely worthless! In fact across this State the police show up to ongoing FELONIES and proceed to lie to both victim and PERP saying it is civil...something like 80% of burglaries are unsolved with just some paperwork filled out at best. Rather they focus on these crimes and leave po-heads alone..

Unknown said...

With respect BGB often statistics are spun to fit the agenda being pushed. If someone that smoked pot was creamed by a semi truck and totally not at fault...would that be a "marijuana related" traffic fatality? I would bet the numbers go way down if only pot impaired at fault avoidable accidents were counted...

DLW said...

10:51, MADD and NHTSA have been pulling that same scam for years by pushing statistics for alcohol RELATED traffic fatalities instead of alcohol CAUSED traffic fatalities.