PRO: Decriminalize small amounts of pot
Jennifer Lee Preyss
June 10, 2012 at 1:10 a.m.
Updated June 11, 2012 at 1:11 a.m.
Victoria County Democratic Party delegates attended the Democratic Convention in Houston last week, presenting a resolution for consideration to the party's platform - marijuana legalization.
About 7,300 statewide delegates voted on the issue, and the resolution passed with only handful of nays.
Victoria's Democratic Chairwoman Kelli Gill said decriminalizing pot, especially for those caught with small amounts, is economically advantageous for the state and may have some residual effects on overall crime reduction.
"If we're looking at it from an economic standpoint, it costs taxpayers more money to criminalize small amounts of marijuana because we wouldn't be spending time prosecuting small offenses," Gill said. "We'd have to regulate the sale and taxing of it, but it could benefit Texas."
Those interested in legalizing marijuana, or reducing small possession charges from misdemeanors to violations, said the law changes will lessen the economic impact of jailing non-violent criminals and reserve law enforcement resources for more high-profile crimes.
Gill said marijuana is not any more dangerous than driving drunk and should therefore be treated as a controlled substance.
"If we treat it as if it were alcohol, or cigarettes, as if it were a controlled substance, then it could be beneficial to the economy, and we could have our law enforcement pursuing more dangerous crimes," Gill said. "We've had the War on Drugs since before I was born, and it's not working, so it's time to try something else."
Across the nation, in New York, Colorado and Washington, Gill's political interests to reduce criminal charges for marijuana possession are growing in popularity.
Last Monday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg backed a plan presented by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that would reduce arrests related to the public possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor charge to a violation, with maximum fines of up to $100. Other states are currently working on similar decriminalization law changes.
The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws states more than 853,000 people per year are arrested for marijuana possession - more than the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. It costs taxpayers about $10 billion each year.
And a 2011 Gallup Poll of 1,005 adults, showed 51 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization, an increase from 11 percent approval in 1969.
Houston attorney Tom Berg, of the law office of Mallette, Saper, Berg, said dissenters of marijuana decriminalization no longer represent the majority view.
"Marijuana has been deemed immoral since the 1930s... but I think most people realize there are more important things for law enforcement to tend to than small amounts of marijuana," Berg said.
As an attorney who primarily works on federal cases, including major drug offenses, Berg said he's familiar with the time investment required to try possession cases.
"The cost for prosecution, for even a minor crime, such as marijuana, is pretty much the same across the board," Berg said. "The resources to develop a case, bring them to jail and bond them out, is the same cost."
In a time when economic resources are scarce, Berg said decriminalizing marijuana, a relatively small offense, "makes sense."
A main concern remains, however, that law changes will increase drug use for adults and children. Neither Gill nor Berg agrees that will occur.
"The people who are smoking are going to smoke it regardless. When children reach an age of experimentation, some are going to try it out," Berg said. "But the idea that you get a citation and fine for possession would likely be as much an irritation and deterrent as the current laws."
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