Law Enforcement Officials Express Support For Proposal To Reduce Marijuana Penalties In Texas

Active duty and former Texas police officers, a retired Texas District Court judge, and others gathered Thursday to express support for HB 81, which would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of a small amount of marijuana

Members of the law enforcement community are speaking out in favor of a proposal to reduce the penalties for simple marijuana possession in Texas. On Thursday, active duty and former Texas police officers, a retired Texas District Court judge, and others joined House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for a news conference at the Texas Capitol to express support for HB 81.

“Arresting people for marijuana possession takes officers off the streets for hours, reducing their effectiveness,” said former Carrollton police officer Silvestre Tanenbaum. “In this time of shrinking law enforcement budgets and staffing reductions, officers need to be able to maximize their impact in our communities. Issuing citations for low-level marijuana possession can drastically reduce the manpower expense and court costs that go into prosecuting what is essentially a victimless offense. It would also enable law enforcement to build better relationships with the community it serves.”

HB 81, introduced by Moody and co-authored by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

“Texans want police on the streets protecting and serving, offenders punished sternly but fairly, and taxpayer money spent efficiently and effectively,” Moody said. “House Bill 81 does that by making personal-use possession of marijuana a civil violation instead of a crime. That frees up law enforcement resources and deals with marijuana possession firmly without branding a college kid caught with a joint as a criminal who will then have real problems getting financial aid to finish school and finding a place to live and work afterwards.”

More than two-thirds of Texans (68%) would support reducing the penalty for low-level marijuana possession to a citation and $250 fine, according to a June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Only 26% said they would be opposed.

“Every year we arrest about 60,000 people in Texas for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. “Each arrest takes about two hours of police time, not to mention the added burden on jails and courts. This diverts resources that could be spent helping victims of violence and serious property crimes. Issuing citations makes more sense. What’s more, a marijuana conviction affects a person’s ability to work and support a family for the rest of their life. No one wins; all of us lose.”

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Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy is a broad coalition of organizations, activists, and community leaders dedicated to realizing effective, efficient, and evidence-based marijuana policies in Texas. For more information, visit http://www.TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org.

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