Texas Representative Harold Dutton Jr. of District 142 in Houston, has submitted a bill for consideration in the 83rd Texas Legislature that would soften the state’s marijuana laws to decriminalize possession less than an ounce. Arguments for and against this bill were heard on Tuesday March 12, 2013.
Well known criminal defense attorney Jamie Balagia writes on his blog “Right now in Texas if you are caught with an ounce of marijuana, you’ll face up to 180 days in a jail and a fine of $2,000. If House Bill 184, sponsored by Representative Harold Dutton of Houston, becomes a state law you wouldn’t get locked up and the fine would be $500.”
A staffer at Representative Dutton’s office reported that a decision on the bill is still pending. It is a positive sign that the bill is still under consideration. The biggest concern from committee members during the hearing was their fear of marijuana as a gateway drug. It is our belief at Chronic Relief that this concern is unfounded and based on a great deal of mis-information. Nonetheless, this viewpoint is a hurdle to decriminalization that we must address.
Committee members Representatives Carter and Leach do NOT support the bill. There offices did not seem open to different opinions but don’t let that stop you from voicing yours! It seems that Rep. Schaffer may still be considering his position. Many on the committee have said to be concerned about marijuana being a gateway drug. Please place them and Committee Chairman, Abel Herrero at the top of your contact list!
While there is a long list of good reasons why Texas should decriminalize cannabis, here are 3 arguments to consider:
1. Personal Tendencies
Chronic Relief argues that the progression to harder drugs is more about one’s tendency towards deviance, curiosity about mind altering substances, family situation, social networks and neighborhood environment than it is about the progression of drug choice. People who want to experiment with drugs are likely to try several, in the same way someone who likes classical music will listen to multiple composers.
The true gateway drugs are alcohol and tobacco as they are generally what people try before cannabis.
The majority of people who try cannabis do not get addicted to harder drugs and a larger percentage of cannabis users don’t even try harder drugs. People who really want to experiment with drugs are likely to do so no matter what.
2. Safety Profile
Cannabis is a medicinal herb which happens to be a safe intoxicant. It is just as safe and versatile a medicine as aspirin but with 20 times the analgesic affect. No one has ever died from its use or abuse.
The 1999 Institute of Medicine Report Marijuana and Medicine reports that the probability of becoming addicted to cannabis is 9%. That is lower than alcohol (15%), cocaine (17%), opiates (23%) and nicotine (32%). If were to be honest with ourselves we would acknowledge that alcohol and tobacco are the gateway drugs.
Every police officer interviewed for the forthcoming book “Chronic Relief” agrees that an intoxicated individual possesses a much more serious threat to an officer and public safety than those who are stoned. This belief has been backed up by several peer reviewed research studies including the work profiled in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine 2006 article Economic Cost of Excessive Alcohol Consumption in the U.S. that showed that chronic consumers of alcohol are twice as dangerous to themselves, and five times more dangerous to society than chronic cannabis users.
3. Cost to Tax Payers
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that in 2011 there were 663,031 arrests for simple possession (under 1 ounce) in the U.S. What is the cost of processing these simple possession cases? How does this impact our jails and criminal justice system? And who pays for that? We do! According to http://www.mytexasdefenselawyer.com, indigent defense costs rose $91 million from 2001 to 2012. When people are faced with jail time, taxpayers have to pay for an attorney if the defendant cannot afford one.
Once imprisoned, it cost $38-50,000 per year to maintain that person, not to mention all of the associated costs of the court and law enforcement expenses. And, what happens to the young people who get thrown in jail for a joint or sent to court mandated rehab facility? They are labeled as a criminal and are treated as such by society. The net impact of that is usually social scorn and chronic underemployment. Then what? You can see where this negative spiral is going. There is nothing good about it for the individual, nor society.
Our current marijuana possession laws are antiquated, expensive, and have a long-term negative impact on society at large. The money currently being spent on prosecuting simple possession charges could be spent in a way that would make our communities safer and our economy stronger. The current drug laws do neither.
How Can You Help?
The best way to help educate lawmakers is by contacting them in writing or making an appointment in their office. You can also call their offices and request to speak with a staffer. Let them know that you support HB184 and why. Lawmakers value hearing from their constituents – even when they disagree with you!
Below is contact information for certain members of the Texas House Jurisprudence Committee. The emails provided are for the staffer who is working on this issue. We also strongly encourage you to contact your representative in support of HB 184.
- Chairman Abel Herrero, (512) 463-0462, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Harold Dutton, (512) 463-0510, email@example.com
- Rep. Stefani Carter, (512) 463-0454, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rep. Jeff Leach, (512) 463-0544, Murphy.email@example.com
- Rep. Matt Schaefer, (512) 463-0584 firstname.lastname@example.org
- For a full list of committee members click here
Our experience has been that lawmakers are grossly misinformed about this topic. As a result, decisions are made from fear, not knowledge. Such lawmaking serves no one. Will you let your voice be heard?
Support HB184 to decriminalize marijuana possession!
This blog is written by www.mychronicrelief.com a website dedicated to helping the terminally and chronically ill bridge the gap between medical science and practical application.