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Fines for marijuana will help taxpayers and citizens accused

Imagine a scene where you are walking down the street with a gram of marijuana in your pocket. Maybe you are going to work, a friend’s house, or perhaps just taking a walk downtown. A police officer stops you, frisks you, and starts going through your pockets. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has removed most of your 4th amendment rights at this point and that immoral search leads to an arrest, incarceration, and ultimately you’ll be facing 6 months in county jail and a $2,000 fine. That’s Texas law.

You can easily say, “Well who cares, he shouldn’t have had marijuana on him, he knows the rules. I’m a law abiding citizen, I don’t have to worry about that.” Then you turn around and gripe about federal taxes, state fees, and local property taxes. You don’t realize there is a distinct connection between what you pay in and what the government is doing. Under the scenario described above, the State of Texas has just spent $10,000 of your tax dollars to stop that person who was doing nothing more than carrying a gram of marijuana. This is your money. This is not something that is paid back through probation. It is the costs of everyone’s time involved: police officers, jailers, prosecutors, judges, defense attorney, court staff, and many more that are involved in record keeping and other clerical positions. Why do you put up with this colossal waste of your tax money? The incident described at the top of the story occurs roughly 61,700 times each year in Texas. Do the math and you’ll see that this law costs Texas (and you) $617,000,000 per year.

Now, we could justify that expenditure if there was a serious harm being addressed, but when is the last time you’ve heard about a marijuana overdose? Maybe it could be justified if there was a reduction in usage. After 45 years of prohibition, has usage changed at all? It seems that society is more accepting of marijuana than it has ever been. So, what is the purpose of spending that money? There appears to be none.

Our lawmakers are not deaf to this issue; they see the waste. On the first day that bills could be filed for the 85th Texas legislative session, several marijuana bills were filed. One in particular stands out as the best option for Texas marijuana policy: HB 81 – Civil Penalties for Marihuana.

No, that’s not spelled wrong. Due to outdated racial attitudes, Texas law only allows the ‘white’ spelling of the word. That’s a story for another day. HB 81 creates a civil penalty for the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. Think of this like a parking violation. We do not want people parking in red zones that are reserved for fire trucks and we do not want them parking on a busy street where there are no parking signs, but nobody would argue that we need to jail these people and take them to county court over the issue.

Though 8 states have now fully legalized and a majority of Texans want reform, Texas still prohibits marijuana. If we are going to keep that stance, lets prohibit it in a reasonable fashion. HB 81 allows a civil fine of up to $250 for anyone caught with less than one ounce of marijuana. This skips the expensive costs of jail, the criminal court system, and saves a peace officer’s time, so that he can address real crime.

In lieu of this fine, a person cited for possession under one ounce would have the opportunity to take a drug education course instead of paying the fine, or if he could not afford the fine, he would be required to do community service. This provision is important because if you are worried about wayward youths going in the wrong direction, this is an opportunity for them to learn about the potential dangers of drug use. We order alcohol education for minors charged with alcohol possession and defensive driving for people charged with moving violations. If a person ignores the fine entirely, then further enforcement action (possible arrest) may be taken, just like someone who ignores their parking fines.

Of course, we are talking about this as a strict numbers game, but we also should consider the effect on people charged with possession of less than an ounce. These are not dealers or distributors. They are normal people who consume marijuana. They have jobs, families, and responsibilities. By backing up the criminal justice system with these cases, you don’t just take resources from the taxpayer, you arbitrarily disrupt a normal person’s life. You push them towards poverty or unemployment with our current laws. A moral society does not do this to someone who is harming no one.

In January, this law is going to be considered by our legislators. Last year it was approved by the House Jurisprudence Committee and didn’t move fast enough to get onto the calendar committee for a floor vote. This year, lets see this bill passed and stop the waste of tax dollars, criminal justice resources, and young people’s lives.

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Kyle is the President of NORML Corpus Christi. In his youth, he was a victim of the war on marijuana and now has his own law practice where he defends citizens accused of crimes.

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  1. John tils
    December 11, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    My name is John tils. I have started my own 501-c4. I’m grass roots canvassing door to door in Texas. I’m looking for someone to talk to that has been lobbying in Texas to pick their brain to help me with my efforts. Please @ me thank you