TV ad to air in Texas for marijuana penalty reduction bill
AUSTIN, Texas — A television ad in support of a bill to reduce marijuana penalties in Texas will begin airing Friday, just days before the state House of Representatives is expected to vote on the measure.
The 30-second spot features Nick Novello, an active duty police officer and 23-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, and Heather Jackson of Houston, an ovarian cancer survivor who was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana in El Paso in 2007.
“Arresting people for marijuana possession does not make our communities any safer,” Novello says in the ad. “It’s a terrible waste of police resources.”
Jackson notes that she was found with less than one gram of marijuana and spent a total of four days in jail. She was initially jailed for two days. She was forced to spend an additional two days in jail because she violated the terms of her probation by traveling from El Paso to Houston for treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“It has affected so many different things in my life,” Jackson says in the ad. She now has a criminal record that has prevented her from getting a teaching job.
Novello calls harsh penalties “unreasonable” and says, “Criminalizing people for marijuana possession does far more harm to the community than marijuana itself. It’s time for a more sensible approach.”
Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. There were 61,749 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015, and there were more than 418,000 from 2010-2015, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The ad concludes by urging viewers to tell their legislators to support HB 81, a bipartisan bill that would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250. A fourth offense would result in a misdemeanor punishable by only a fine. The measure passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last month and is expected to receive a full vote in the House next week.
The ad is scheduled to air through Monday in Austin and through the weekend in Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston on CNN, Fox News Channel, and MSNBC.
“It is not just the strong majority of voters who support reducing possession penalties in Texas, but also the police officers who are charged with enforcing these laws,” said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which produced the ad on behalf of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “Law enforcement officials have more important things to do than arrest people, drag them to court, and throw them in jail for possessing a small amount of marijuana. It’s unfair and a waste of resources.”
More than two-thirds of Texans (68%) support reducing the penalty for low-level marijuana possession to a citation and $250 fine, according to a June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Only 26% are opposed.