State Rep. Harold Dutton (D, Houston) has what I think is a smart proposal: Make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine but not prison.
Texas law currently calls for six months in jail for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, a class B misdemeanor. Dutton's measure would maintain that designation for possession of between one and two ounces of pot, but would cut that to a class C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket, for possession of one ounce or less.
"We've been tough on crime for the last decade or so, and now it's time to be a little bit smart on crime," Dutton told 1200 WOAI news.
Dutton's law would not reduce punishments for possession of largest amounts of marijuana.
"People who have a joint of marijuana should not be facing a class B misdemeanor, which ties up our justice system," Dutton said.
Currently, Texas police can handcuff, book, and jail suspects for as much as a couple of seeds of marijuana on the floorboard of their car or in an ash tray in their home. This bill would enable officers simply to write the suspects a ticket and send them on their way. It would also eliminate the drivers license suspension which currently accompanies a drug possession conviction in Texas.
"the data that we have indicates that sixty to seventy percent of people arrested under current Texas drug laws have one joint or less," Dutton said. "Putting these people in jail doesn't make Texans any safer, and doesn't make any sense.
"We're not going to tie up our courts with this any longer. We'll turn it over to municipal courts and you can pay the fine and go on."
Dutton said his measure does not call for tougher penalties for people with repeated tickets for possession of one ounce of less of marijuana.
He says he wants to 'take the sting out of the law.'
"We need to be smart on Texans pocketbooks, and leave the criminal justice system to more heinous crimes. To give people 180 days in jail for having two seeds of marijuana on their floorboards seems to be a waste of the state's time and money, and a waste of the lives of the people who have to suffer that punishment," he said.
Dutton said his bill is not 'decriminalization' of marijuana, simply a more common sense approach to dealing with the problem.
UPDATE: Grits has a clarification on the nature of Dutton's bill from 2003.Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 29, 2004 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack