End arrests for low-level marijuana possession!

End wasteful and costly arrests that don’t make anyone safer!

More than 60,000 Texans per year are arrested for pot possession, taken to jail, and prosecuted — all for user-level amounts of a weed which is legal for recreational use in 9 states governing 20 percent of the US population. Marijuana possession ranks among the most common causes of arrest, costing counties millions of dollars in jail expenses and payments to attorneys for the poor. According to a poll by the Texas Lyceum, more than 80 percent of Texans favor either full-blown legalization or decriminalization of marijuana.

The Texas Legislature will not go that far in 2019. But they will almost certainly revive House Bill 81 from last session. That bill would eliminate arrests for user-level pot possession by creating a civil penalty for marijuana, eliminating all collateral consequences from a criminal conviction. Presently, the penalty for possessing less than an ounce of pot is up to six months in prison and up to a $2,000 fine. Under HB 81, the maximum fine for what would become a civil violation would have become $250.

Bi-partisan coalition for reform

The following organizations support making low-level marijuana possession a civil penalty: Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Faith in Texas, Texans for Accountable Government (TAG), ACLU of Texas, Austin Justice Coalition, Texas Fair Defense, and Just Liberty.

Help Just Liberty end arrests for user level pot possession!

An arrest for marijuana possession:

– takes police off the street for hours of booking and paperwork;
– takes jail staff, legal resources, and court time away from processing more dangerous people;
– wastes money on jail and probation costs on people who pose little risk;
– drives up indigent defense costs for people who can’t afford an attorney;
– reduces liberty thanks to drug-war mission creep, overreach.

Wasting scarce resources, inflicting harm

Booking a person for marijuana takes a toll on police time, jail staff time, and overburdens the courts, not to mention requiring the county to pay for any necessary healthcare or mental health treatment while a defendant is incarcerated. The booking procedure includes processing paperwork, taking mug shots and fingerprints, collecting clothing and personal property, conducting a full body search, checking for warrants, performing physical and mental health assessments, as well as immigration checks. In Dallas, the wait alone for a nurse to perform a health screening can be 45 minutes, lengthening what can be an hours-long process that keeps officers off of the streets even longer.

From a defendant’s perspective, being arrested for marijuana can have repercussions on a person’s home life, social standing, and employment. Maybe someone has a child waiting to be picked up at school. Perhaps they need to get home to care for an elderly parent. Or maybe they just need to get to work to earn a paycheck. Most of us have responsibilities and failure to attend to them is not an option. Jobs are lost, children are scared and in doubt, and dependent relatives may be left without adequate care. The societal benefit from marijuana arrests just doesn’t outweigh those harms.

Marijuana is safer than alcohol

Texas punishes marijuana use even though its safer than alcohol, which is legal for adults 21 years of age and older. Marijuana possession is not like a DWI, theft, or assault, crimes where there’s a strong societal safety interest in punishing the activity. It makes little sense to punish the safer substance more harshly. These bills would take an important step in the direction of rationalizing these laws.

Incarceration won’t cure substance abuse

The main difference between HB 81 and 82 and current law is that people caught with user-level possession amounts of marijuana under either bill would not be arrested and taken to jail. Jail does not cure substance abuse and there’s no treatment provided in jail to help pot users change their behavior. So the main function of sending pot users to jail is to expose low-risk offenders to more serious offenders who may victimize them, recruit them, or otherwise suck them deeper into the criminal sphere. Studies show incarcerating low-risk offenders with higher-risk ones increases the chance they’ll commit crimes later on.

The people are way ahead of government on this

Public opinion on marijuana is way ahead of our legislators, who are still scared that if they vote to change marijuana penalties, somebody will accuse them of being “soft on crime.”

Public opinion polling consistently shows wide majorities support these or similar proposals. A Texas Tribune poll found that 68 percent of Texans support reducing penalties for marijuana. But in 2015, bills to reduce pot penalties couldn’t muster a vote in either chamber. This year, we need your help to push the Texas Legislature to act!

How to fix the problem

The legislation filed in 2017, HB 81, would eliminate most arrests for low-level marijuana possession and reduce jail costs from processing and housing marijuana defendants. It would also relieve county governments from the obligation to pay for lawyers when defendants can’t afford one. That would incur significant cost savings for county governments, which pay for those things with local property taxes.

The public overwhelmingly favors reform. Counties need the budget relief. Now, Just Liberty needs your help to convince the Texas Legislature to follow the will of the people when it comes to arresting marijuana users. Watch this video Just Liberty created to promote HB 81, then reach out to tell your Texas legislator they need to push this bill over the finish line in 2019: