2013 Texas Legislative Update: Marijuana Decriminalization – Unlikely to Ever Pass, but Good for Decreasing Juvenile Arrests

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Two Texas lawmakers are hoping Texas legislators will pass a bill to reduce the penalty for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor.  This means offenders in this category would pay a ticket, like a traffic ticket not punishable by jail time.  Rep. Dutton (D-Houston) and Rep. Burnam (D-Fort Worth) are co-sponsoring House Bill 184.  A similar bill authored only by Dutton, HB 182, would lower the penalty for possession less than a gram of a controlled substance (cocaine or heroin, for example) from a state jail felony to a Class A misdemeanor, still punishable by jail time.

California has experimented with decriminalization and seen positive results.  In 2010, California passed SB 1449, a bill similar to HB 184, to reduce possession of less than one ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a ticket, with no jail time and a maximum of $100 fine.  An interesting, presumably unintended consequence of the decriminalization of marijuana in California is the significant decrease in juvenile arrests.  Between 2010 and 2011, juvenile crime in California decreased by 20%, resulting in the lowest level of juvenile crime since 1954, when California started keeping these records.  In addition, drug arrests decreased by nearly 50 percent.  Presumably juvenile crime in Texas would also decrease and drug arrests would decline significantly as Class C misdemeanors are only ticketable, not arrestable offenses.  I believe this would be wonderful for Texas youth.  Many teens make poor choices involving drugs and get over it. Under this law, they could learn their mistake with only a court appearance and a fine.

Would marijuana decriminalization be a good move financially for Texas? Probably, some believe that Texas counties would safe large sums of money from less indigent defense costs and warehousing fewer low-level drug offenders.  Despite this, most sources believe HB 184 has no chance of passing.  Some believe small time, conscientious marijuana users don’t deserve to be jailed.  Supporters of the bill including Texas NORML (National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws).  Opponents have not spoken up loudly against this bill as it is not expected to get anywhere, but presumably would include governments and organizations with similar philosophies to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

When voters in Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana in their states in November 2012, they did so in part to benefit their states financially by taxing marijuana.  Texas is a likely long way from legalizing marijuana to tax it, but if they did so, I predict the savings and potential tax income would likely be a lifesaver for the state.

Will Texas ever decriminalize marijuana? My money is on no.