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Marijuana offenses a concern in 'Raise the age' debate for Texas

Over 2,000 protesters gathered at the courthouse in downtown Fort Worth in May 2014 to support reforming marijuana laws.
Over 2,000 protesters gathered at the courthouse in downtown Fort Worth in May 2014 to support reforming marijuana laws.

Local government officials throughout Texas are keeping a close eye on legislation which would raise the age for which someone can be tried as an adult from 17 to 18.

This legislation will likely have a major impact on teenage marijuana prosecutions.

Texas is one of nine states that treats youths younger than 18 as adults.

Shannon Edmonds, Texas District and County Attorneys Association governmental relations director, said the matter has been dubbed by many as “Raise the Age.” Even though 17-year-olds can’t vote, join the military or serve on juries, Texas has charged 17-year-olds as adults since 1918.

Advocates of the bills say the adolescent brain is still developing and the juvenile system is better suited to offer rehabilitation programs, structured probation and age-appropriate treatment.

But, critics say pushing 17-year-old offenders into the juvenile system will burden county and state programs, causing the need to hire more workers, create new programs and possibly build additional juvenile detention facilities, which could be a major burden for smaller cash-strapped counties.

Youths transferred to adult systems had 34 percent more felony re-arrests after the age of 18 than those detained in youth facilities, according to a 2007 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

A report commissioned by the Texas Legislature last year reported that since 2007, numerous states have raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18.

The report states that in 2013, 44 percent of all 17-year-olds were arrested on charges of nonviolent crimes, including larceny, marijuana possession, or public drunkenness.

Jax Finkel, who works with Texas NORML, a marijuana law reform group, says she believes raising the age will ultimately be a good thing.

“With arrests for marijuana possession being skewed disproportionately towards youth, adjusting the age of adulthood in Texas would help reduce the number of youth who are unnecessarily put in jails with hardened criminals for a non-violent crime, such as possession of marijuana,” Finkel states. “In Texas, minors and adults under 21 make up more than 40 percent of all marijuana arrests. These youths are then saddled with criminal records, loss of scholarships and job opportunities, and many face jail time. Texans demand education and treatment in place of costly and damaging incarceration.”

Recent hearings on four marijuana penalty reduction bills also saw much support for reforming cannabis laws in Texas out of concern that young people’s lives are being ruined due to the law.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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