Proposed bill lessens punishment for marijuana, controlled substance possession

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Small amounts of marijuana possession could become comparable to a traffic violation if a bill filed in the Texas House of Representatives passes.

Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has filed a bill that would make possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, comparable to a traffic ticket. Currently, any amount less than two ounces is a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

A similar bill filed by Dutton makes possession of one gram or less of certain controlled substances a Class A misdemeanor instead of a state jail felony. Drugs under this category include cocaine, ecstasy, LSD and heroin. Under the current law, any amount less than two grams is a state jail felony, punishable by six to 24 months in state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. Offenders with certain previous convictions would not be subject to either of these bills.

Multiple attempts to reach Dutton were unsuccessful.

Buckley Rue, religious studies junior and UT’s Students for a Sensible Drug Policy president, said the bills are a small but significant step in the right direction. He said it is an issue of fairness to those arrested for minor drug possession violations.

“Drug usage, particularly marijuana, transcends color and creed, leaving people of all varieties to contemplate the day they might be arrested for some petty possession, which affects no one but the person getting arrested,” Rue said. “How many innocent teens must be plagued with a drug record for the rest of their life for having perhaps a gram of a substance with a lower death rate than caffeine or aspirin?”

Sociology professor William Kelly said he agrees with Dutton’s bill.

“It does not make sense to jail folks for possession of marijuana,” Kelly said. “Decriminalization of possession of marijuana is rational and appropriate.”

Dutton filed two similar bills during the last legislative session, both of which failed to make it out of the criminal jurisprudence committee.

Printed on Friday, December 7, 2012 as: Bills could loosen marijuana laws