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Texas marijuana consumers will still be criminals after decriminalization, legalization

Many people in Texas who consume marijuana will still be criminals long after the plant is both decriminalized and legalized.

At a rate of 60,000 to 75,000 arrests per year for possession in Texas alone, the number of people who already have a criminal record for possessing a plant which is safer than many other legal drugs is presumed to be staggering. Data on just how many people currently live in Texas with a criminal record for marijuana possession is hard to come by.

All of these people face extra discrimination when it comes to employment, housing rentals, and licensing. They’re also denied college financial aid. It makes these people part of a class which is extremely hard to get out of, and most will struggle their whole lives because of a possession of marijuana criminal record.

There is legislation currently being considered by the Texas legislature that would both decriminalize marijuana, and legalize it.

HB 81 would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a civil fine of up to $250, with no arrest, and no criminal record. However, it does not cover marijuana concentrates, which any amount of is considered a felony, even though concentrates are often considered a healthier, more effective way of consuming this plant.

Both HJR 46 and SJR 17 would legalize cannabis. These two bills are joint-resolutions, meaning a super majority of legislators must pass one of them, and then the voters of Texas would have the final say at the ballot box in 2018.

None of these three bills would roll back any of the destruction our marijuana policy has caused however. Those who have criminal records or have been arrested before the bills go into effect would still be criminals, subject to discrimination while everyone else who is doing the same thing they were, are free to live their lives without that burden.

A recurring theme when testimony is given to legislators is that people tell them “I’m not a criminal, I just consume a plant while not harming anyone else.” This same line variation was repeated during a hearing earlier this week for marijuana decriminalization in which only one person showed up to speak against the proposed bill.

Unfortunately those people are criminals, even though according to recent polling by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune about 83 percent of Texans don’t believe that many of them should be. That poll data found that Texans overwhelmingly support either reduced penalties or no penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. Marijuana comprises more than half of all Texas drug arrests and 97 percent of those were for possession of two ounces or less.

Criminals are often thought of as dangerous individuals who have harmed someone else either physically or financially, or have done something to deprive another person of their rights. People who merely possess marijuana do not fall under that definition, yet they are lumped in with those dangerous individuals all the same.

The Texas legislature meets every other year for 140 days, which means there’s a short amount of time to get the law right and get it passed, and a long time in between for those individuals who fell through the cracks.

Stay up to date with the latest cannabis news from a Texas perspective by following the Texas Cannabis Report social media pages.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas and serves as Deputy Director for NORML of Waco. 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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