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Simpson files pot legalization bill

From the inbox:

Rep. David Simpson

Texas State Representative David Simpson (R-7) introduced a bill Monday that would strike all language pertaining to marijuana from Texas Statutes, thus abolishing marijuana prohibition in the state.

Representative Simpson’s HB 2165 harkens back to a time when government did not intervene in the control of marijuana. And you know what? It wasn’t a very scary time. The prohibition of marijuana was notoriously built on misinformation and hyperbole rather than facts and results.

When these laws haven’t worked for 80 years, is it really such a novel concept to simply remove them?

76% of Texans recently responded to a UT/Texas Tribune poll saying they favor reducing criminal penalties for marijuana or allowing medical access to marijuana. How many of them would support the government getting out of marijuana altogether?

It may be a surprise to some that a Republican from deep-red East Texas is reclaiming marijuana prohibition as a small government issue, but it shouldn’t be.

“It disturbs me greatly that Republicans would distort the principles of small government, fiscal responsibility, and personal liberty in such a way that they could support the failed principle of marijuana prohibition any longer,” states Ann Lee, co-founder and executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition.

Simpson lays out his Christian-based principles for treating marijuana as any other agricultural product in this TribTalk piece. I wonder how many people (Rep. Simpson included) realize that his “if marijuana is illegal then God made a mistake” rhetoric comes from the late comedian Bill Hicks. This isn’t an argument against HB2165, mind you, I’m just amused. I have no objections to the basic philosophy here, and I think current academic research supports it, but I’d probably want to treat pot more like beer than like, say, corn. It’s still a good idea to keep it away from minors, for example. I’m pretty sure Rep. Simpson would agree with that. Grits, Unfair Park, and Hair Balls have more.

Having said all that, I seriously doubt Rep. Simpson’s bill has enough support to get anywhere. I won’t be surprised if it never gets a committee hearing, or never gets past being left pending in committee. I mean, look at how tentative and constricted the recently introduced medical marijuana bills are, and ask yourself if this is a Legislature that’s ready to throw all the existing prohibitions on marijuana out the window. as Rodger Jones notes, despite more grassroots support for loosening pot laws, nearly all current Republican legislators support the status quo. There’s also likely to be strong opposition to Simpson’s bill – this Chron story quotes a spokesperson from the Sheriff’s Association of Texas vowing to fight against this bill or any other like it. Again, this is not an argument against HB2165, just some perspective. It’s surely better to view it as something to work towards, rather than something that can pass right now. If you see it that way, then some transitional steps are in order, as they’ll do some good now and will make the ultimate leap to decriminalization later that much less daunting. One such recently filed example comes from Rep. Gene Wu. Here’s the press release he sent out recently:

Representative Gene Wu (D-Houston) filed a bill to create a new Class C misdemeanor penalty range for the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. House Bill 325 will make possession of up to 0.35 ounces or 9.9222 grams of Marijuana punishable by a fine of no more than $500.

“Arrests for very small amounts of Marijuana drain law enforcement resources and divert valuable time away from addressing more serious public safety concerns, like Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and Domestic Violence offenses, ” said Wu. “Defendants serving time for low-level Marijuana possession add to jail overcrowding and deplete county coffers without adding to overall community safety. Counties must also provide attorneys to all indigent defendants charged with Class B Marijuana possession; but not for defendants in Class C cases.”

Currently in Texas, possession of up to two ounces or less of Marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor; punishable by up to 6-months in jail, and a fine of up to $2,000. In 2013 alone, Texas law enforcement made over 70,000 arrests for Marijuana possession, accounting for over half of all drug arrests and nearly 8% of all arrests.

HB 325 would lower the penalty ladder for the smallest amounts of Marijuana possession creating a sensible distinction between possession of very small amounts of Marijuana and larger amounts. The bill would also give police officers the option to either arrest or issue a ticket to a person possessing a small amount of Marijuana. Officers would still retain the ability to arrest and search if they choose. Like other Class C offenses, repeat offenses (4 or more) would elevate the charge to a Class B misdemeanor.

“Texas has one of the highest rates in the nation in terms of people arrested for marijuana possession, and some of the harshest penalties,” said Wu. “This bill takes a sensible and cost-effective approach to low-level Marijuana possession, and provides a fiscally responsible solution to an overloaded criminal justice system. I invite my colleagues to support this measure and sign on as co-authors.”

Not nearly as sexy as treating pot like lettuce and carrots, but it is a step in the right direction and it likely has a chance of passage. One can support both HBs 2165 and 325 without contradicting oneself.

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2 Comments

  1. Steven Houston says:

    Funny, when you look at the raw numbers, a majority want to keep pot restricted too; like all statistics, how you express them changes the leaning of the data. 58% of those polled said they would either keep pot in all forms completely illegal or ONLY allow for medical exceptions. Left unasked (and unanswered) was what kind of medical access would those voters allow.

    California has become a de facto legalized state since anyone that wants to smoke can go to one of the huge number of people willing to sign off on it, a woman can get a prescription simply by telling a doctor she gets cramps once a month or has headaches, men similarly allowed an ease of use many here in Texas would not currently agree to. But for the most part, many discard even those barriers to get free access.

    Then, if you add the folks that think having a “small amount” should be legal, no definition provided of just how small, you come up with 84% of those polled thinking there should still be legal restrictions on pot (from completely illegal to the medical excuse to small amounts). Personally, I think most of the arguments in favor of pot use are bogus but believe we should abandon the vilification of pot altogether and let people poison their bodies as they see fit.

  2. 77096 says:

    What impressed me the most about Simpson’s editorial was his reference to a failing war on drugs and the extraordinarily harsh sentences resulting from the current legal arrangement. It was very well-written and really raises my opinion of his potential.