In recent years, there has been a growing debate around drug policy reform in the United States. One such piece of legislation that has garnered significant attention is the Texas Decriminalization Bill.
This bill, however, died in the Senate, although it received bipartisan support. The bill aimed to reduce criminal penalties for low-level cannabis offenses, opting, instead, for alternative approaches such as treatment and rehabilitation.
While many advocates argued that this change in policy would lead to a more just and compassionate criminal justice system, others believed it would negatively impact the state’s overall approach to drug enforcement.
Even though the bill is no longer up for consideration, it’s still important to explore both sides of the debate and understand the future potential implications of passing this type of legislation.
Most importantly, if you are arrested for a drug crime, you should seek help from a drug defense lawyer in San Marcos, Texas.
The primary goal of the Texas Decriminalization Bill was to remove criminal penalties for individuals caught possessing small amounts of marijuana. Instead of facing jail time, anyone caught with the drug would receive a civil citation or be required to take part in a drug treatment or community service program.
The bill further sought to reform mandatory minimum sentencing, allowing for more discretion on a case-by-case basis. While the bill died when it reached the Senate, it’s still helpful to look at both sides of the coin and review the pros and cons of the proposed legislation.
The bill first supported making possession of one ounce or less of marijuana a civil versus criminal offense. However, that measure didn’t fly.
Instead, lawmakers agreed to reduce penalties for low-level possession, reducing the crime from a Class B to Class C misdemeanor offense.
Although the legalization of marijuana is unlikely to happen in Texas, both proponents and opponents have raised their voices and expressed their views and opinions on decriminalization.
For example, many law enforcement officials consider that marijuana is still a gateway drug – or a substance that leads to the use of other illegal narcotics. However, there’s not a lot of proof to support this claim.
While many users of other drugs use marijuana, not all marijuana users take up the use of other illegal drugs.
Leniency toward marijuana use collides, as well, with federal laws on the use and possession of cannabis.
When these two laws clash, the federal mandate supersedes the state law. Therefore, a state law, theoretically, is considered null and void if it does not support federal legislation. How the law is enforced is what makes the difference.
So if a state law defies a federal ruling, and the federal government doesn’t enforce the law in a particular state, it may throw everything into limbo.
For instance, certain Texans currently use medical marijuana through the compassionate use program (CUP), which is overseen by the state’s Department of Public Safety. However, use is confined to people with specific conditions, such as MS, epilepsy, autism, or terminal cancer.
This is confusing, as the term “medical marijuana” contradicts the federal government’s view of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance – a classification that falls under the Controlled Substance Act.
This category defines marijuana as a highly dangerous and illegal substance that has a high risk of dependency with no recognized use medically.
Besides marijuana, other Schedule 1 substances include LSD, heroin, and ecstasy. Distribution of any of these substances is considered a federal crime.
So, how do you gauge these state and federal conflicts? The answer is The Supremacy Clause.
When state and federal laws get into a skirmish, the supremacy clause, part of Article VI in the U.S. Constitution, is referenced.
This clause contains a doctrine known as the doctrine of preemption. This credo states that the federal government can stop the enforcement of state law. However, this can get tricky, as the operative word here is “can.”
Again, it depends on who makes the charges and who chooses to enforce drug charges.
This still may cause you to wonder why marijuana, which the federal government considers to be of no medical value, is still touted for “medical” use. Obviously, this places some scientists and the public at odds with the U.S. government.
Nevertheless, the Supreme Court concurs with the federal consensus – a consensus that views marijuana as a psychoactive substance that supports a high potential for addiction. Yet, some people in the public consider the drug safe for conditions like chronic pain or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While marijuana may influence decision-making skills or cause behavioral changes, proponents of decriminalization note that no one has overdosed on the drug as they have on other Class 1 narcotics like heroin and cocaine. This causes people to argue that marijuana, at least in this respect, is not dangerous.
As a result, decriminalization incites a lot of controversy among users, law enforcement officials, and those in the legal community.
Some legislators believe that decriminalizing marijuana would make it easier to access the drug and therefore broaden its use. The main concern here involves drugs used by children and teens.
However, the National Academy of Sciences refutes the foregoing assumption. Most younger users will stop using the drug for social or health reasons or because of parental disapproval.
Nevertheless, the fear that teens will use the drug recreationally is not entirely unfounded.
While recreational users typically start losing interest in the drug around 34 years of age, medical marijuana users are more prevalent among people 34 years of age or older.
You also have to consider the doctor’s first rule–primum nonnocere–whatever a doctor prescribes first, the treatment cannot harm the patient. Therefore, the main argument about the use of medical marijuana is not about the alleviation of a patient’s symptoms but, instead, how much harm is associated with the drug’s use.
Some people also believe that decriminalizing cannabis could trigger the full-blow legalization of pot for recreational use.
Advocates, on the other hand, who endorse decriminalization believe the legislation serves to save the state money. It’s not meant to encourage full-scale use, at least in Texas.
For example, if a young user is caught with a small amount of pot, it does not seem fair to some lawyers that the person charged is still facing the consequences of their actions long after the arrest.
Here you can find some examples of resolutions or initiatives that have passed in some counties:
|Austin||Passed municipal initiative in 2022||Police officers “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses” absent defendants’ alleged involvement in a “felony-level narcotics” case. The measure also prohibits local police from executing ‘no knock’ warrants.|
|Bexar County||City Council Resolution passed in 2017||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Cedar Park||Passed in 2019; implemented by Sheriff’s Office||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Dallas||House Bill passed in 2017||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Denton||Passed municipal initiative in 2022||Police officers “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses” absent defendants’ alleged involvement in a “felony-level narcotics” case.|
|Elgin||Passed municipal initiative in 2022||Police officers “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses” absent defendants’ alleged involvement in a “felony-level narcotics” case.|
|El Paso||City Council Resolution passed in 2020||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Harker Heights||Passed municipal initiative in 2023||This ordinance limits local law enforcement from making arrests or issuing citations for most marijuana-related violations. It also prohibits police in most circumstances from considering the odor of cannabis as a probable cause of a crime.|
|Harris County/Houston||City Council Resolution passed in 2017||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Hays County||Passed in 2009; implemented by Sheriff’s Office||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Killeen||Passed municipal initiative in 2022||Police officers “shall not issue citations or make arrests for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana offenses” absent defendants’ alleged involvement in a “felony-level narcotics” case.|
|Nueces County||Passed in 2019; implemented by District Attorney’s Office||New penalties are a summons and release|
|Plano County||Passed in 2021; implemented by Sheriff’s Office||New penalties are a summons and release|
|San Marcos||Passed municipal initiative in 2022|
|Tarrant County||Informal policy started in 2021||Cite and release policy instead of arrests for under two ounces|
|Travis County||Passed by County Commissioners Court in 2017||New penalties are a $45 fine and a 4-hour marijuana class|
|Williamson County||Pilot program passed in 2017||New penalties are a summons and release|
It is important to remember, as well, that decriminalization is not the same as legalization or medical expansion of cannabis.
If a defendant is caught selling marijuana, they still are charged. Possession of over an ounce is still considered an offense. Driving while under the influence of drugs is still a crime as well.
Advocates of decriminalization believe a civil penalty system ensures that legal enforcement is directed to more serious crimes. Therefore, advocates for decriminalization believe that treating addiction and use is a more positive activity.
However, opponents of decriminalization take the opposite stance. They believe this type of legislation could negatively affect Lone Star State’s other drug laws. By removing certain criminal penalties, lawmakers believe that the legislation could increase the use of marijuana as well as other illegal drugs. That’s because people would feel less fearful of repercussions.
Higher use, they believe, could also lead to more health complications and higher addiction rates. They add that decriminalization could overburden drug treatment resources, which are currently limited if cases are funneled out of the criminal justice system.
Moreover, some opponents contend that decriminalization could inadvertently encourage drug-related criminal activity.
Opponents believe decriminalization creates an environment that is perceived as less harsh toward drug possession and use. In turn, this perception could increase the manufacture and distribution of other narcotics, elevating the state’s crime rate over time.
Needless to say, decriminalization sparks some passionate arguments on either side of the fence, with opinions strong for and against the legislation.
Reviewing the dialogues surrounding state and national drug policies and considering the future societal implications will both play a part in what the future holds.
Have you been arrested for a drug crime? Do you need a solid criminal defense lawyer? If so, contact the Mendoza Law Firm to receive the legal assistance you need and to develop a defense strategy.
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