By which they mean that the federal government should repeal its anti-marijuana laws and leave it to the states to regulate.
While there are still questions about long-term health effects of marijuana use or the policy implications of decriminalization or legalization, the United States knows all too well the consequences of continuing the war on drugs: millions spent on ineffective law enforcement, drug cartels getting rich and poor people going to jail.
The heavy burden of our national marijuana policies is uniquely borne by the black community. While black kids and white kids statistically use marijuana at equal rates, according to a study last year from the American Civil Liberties Union, black kids are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for possession.
Here in Harris County, blacks were 44.9 percent of all marijuana possession arrests in 2010 despite being only 18.9 percent of the population. Colorado and Washington already have legalized recreational marijuana, and 18 other states plus the District of Columbia have legal medical marijuana, but it seems like marijuana possession is de facto decriminalized if you just live in the right neighborhood. These startling statistics belie our nation’s promise of equal treatment under the law. It is time for Texas to officially change our own marijuana policies.
The discussion already has begun in the race for Harris County district attorney, where Democratic candidate Kim Ogg has said she would punish low-level marijuana possession with tickets and community service instead of arrests and jail time. By her numbers, more than 12,000 people were charged in Harris County last year with possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana. These prosecutions left county taxpayers on the hook for $4.4 million. There’s also the social cost of taking people away from their jobs and families and shuttling them through an unforgiving criminal justice system. All this for something that is essentially a bad habit and a vice.
While lauding Ogg’s proposal the Chron expressed skepticism about Devon Anderson’s as-yet-revealed plan to reform marijuana prosecutions and hope that she’ll come around. They note the recent Times editorial that made the same call for “repealing Prohibition”. As far as the health effects of pot smoking and the justification of them for continuing prohibition, Wonkblog has been all over it lately.
It’s unclear what the effect in Texas would be if federal marijuana laws were magically repealed tomorrow. We can debate when the Legislature might take action, but I wouldn’t bet on anything this decade. Wendy Davis supports the legalization of medical marijuana, which is at least a more realistic possibility here, while Greg Abbott typically has nothing to say on the issue. It’s not much of a stretch to say that if repeal happened tomorrow, some states would rush to embrace their newfound freedom while others would cling to the past, maybe even more tightly in some cases. There may be a partisan divide on that, but it’s hard to say. This is of course how things usually go when we “leave it up to the states”, as a thirty-second survey of the landscape on access to health insurance, reproductive rights, and same sex marriage could tell you. I don’t know what states would do what under a no-Prohibition scenario, but I do know that for any individual American their own freedom, as well as their risk of prosecution and incarceration, would be entirely dependent on the luck of where they live. That’s why even though leaving it to the states would almost certainly be an improvement over the status quo in this case, it’s hardly a panacea. Some things need to be true for everyone and not just the ones that won the geographic lottery.