Decriminalizing marijuana makes sense

Star-Telegram EDITORIAL December 30, 2016 5:42 PM

A march for marijuana law reform drew a large crowd May 7 in downtown Fort Worth. Max Faulkner mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

Legalization of marijuana will not happen this legislative session. Even decriminalization would be tough, but it’s a move toward reform that could get lawmaker approval.
Last session, only one mairjuana-related bill to become law (compassionate use of an extract for certain patients), but attitudes are changing. More states have approved marijuana reform.
Four states legalized marijuana, and four states approved some form of medical marijuana last year. As of 2016, 28 states and Washington, D.C., have some pro-marijuana legislation.

Five Texas bills on the subject had been filed as of last week:
▪ HB58: Specialty court for first-time possession offenders.
▪ HB81: Possession of 1 ounce or less would carry only a civil penalty.
▪ HB82: Make possession of 1 ounce or less a Class C misdemeanor (currently a Class B misdemeanor).
▪ HB680: Make possession of 0.35 ounce or less a Class C misdemeanor.
▪ SB170: almost identical to HB81.

HB81 and SB170 are the closest to reform this session. They call for decriminalization, something many believe to be a bigger deal than it is.
Decriminalization doesn’t mean the drug industry becomes a free-for-all. It just makes possession of a small amount of marijuana a civil offense instead of criminal.
It would be in the same vein as traffic violations and violation of smoking ordinances — still laws that everyone must abide by but without the threat of jail.
Decriminalization for small amounts of marijuana would reduce the strain on state jails and court systems.
In 2015, over 61,000 Texans were arrested for possession of marijuana. Possession of 2 ounces or less has a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and/or $2,000 fine.
Not only is that extreme, it also costs the state time and money to prosecute and house these offenders.
Legalization of marijuana, especially for medical use, might not be something the Legislature tackles this year, but it should be discussed.
It might be even worth putting on a ballot.

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