Texas Governor Rick Perry’s recent discussion on marijuana decriminalization hints at a middle of the road approach and falls between groups on each side: advocates for legalization and drastic reform and those who don’t want to see any relaxation of drug laws in Texas, as My San Antonio online comments. Some argue that drug courts in Texas go far enough – those arrested and charged of substance-related crimes are funneled into special courts that promote rehabilitation instead of jail time. Attorneys in San Antonio, Texas and other Lone Star state regions argue that that the difference on the defendant’s criminal record, however, is minimal. And the funding diverted to the unwieldy and resource-consumptive drug courts is not much less than what’s allocated to traditional corrections systems, proportionately.
Decriminalization in Texas would mean that people wouldn’t be arrested and criminally charged with minor marijuana possession. Currently, someone caught with less than 2 ounces still faces up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Some attorneys in San Antonio, Texas and other municipalities such as the liberal seat of Austin, think that some of these measures are fiscally wasteful and unnecessarily harsh. In Austin, for example, individuals are usually ticketed rather than arrested. So why are Texas laws not really up for reform?
One reason probably has to do with the state’s overwhelmingly conservative take on policy changes. If Colorado, Washington and Connecticut can figure out how to legalize and regulate marijuana markets, why rush to join the fray? Let someone else sort out the issues, including heavy legislative revisions and considerations of past convictions for something that’s no longer criminal. Attorneys in San Antonio, Texas and other large metro areas where prison sentences are being served for marijuana possession, may be called upon to represent appeals and sort out complexities in retroactive implementations of statues.
Some of the statistics provided in the San Antonio news article support the claim that resources are being diverted away from public safety, resulting in less arrests and fewer charges and convictions for violent crimes. Time and funding for police officers, public attorneys in San Antonio, Texas, judges, bailiffs, clerks, jail cells, and probation and parole officers, and a whole host of facilities and personnel required to run criminal conviction charges in Texas is tied up in marijuana cases. In Connecticut, for example, the state found that more than $50 million was being spent in state and local law enforcement on marijuana arrests and enforcement. In 2011, 68,937 arrests were made in Texas related to marijuana possession. Of these arrests, even of the individuals who were funneled through the so-called progressive drug courts, how many genuinely suffer from addiction? If the national estimate is roughly 1.4 percent of the population, probably very few. Do Texas drug courts serve individuals who are recreational or experimental users, now with a criminal conviction on their record?
Thanks, Gov. Perry, for bringing this to our attention. Now, what should we do about it?