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No jail time for a little pot

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.

I couldn’t agree more. Grits notes that a similar bill by Dutton in 2003 had bipartisan support, so maybe this bill will, too.

UPDATE: Grits has a clarification on the nature of Dutton’s bill from 2003.

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One Comment

  1. cloudy says:

    Berkeley CA (where I lived for about a decade, roughly the 80s)used to have a law that made small amounts of marijuana possession a matter of a $70 fine. In Alaska, they used to allow anyone to grow and use up to TWO ounces, legally — but the federal government under Reagan established a policy denying highway funds to any state with such a policy and it fell by the wayside. Where I might ask are all those rightwing “states’ rights” people WHENEVER a left policy by states is bulldozed under by the feds, especially on environmental issues? Another suggestion for the law (since that one surely won’t pass) is another, possibly supplementary, allowing states to decide what to do about possession of under two ounces of marijuana and allowing licensed medical marijuana dealers. Such a permission to states would challenge the right on this federalism issue, while leaving in place any law concerning interstate transport of the good or possession of over two ounces. (not that I agree with the latter either, but just trying to be politically realistic).