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Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Author: Bryan M. Samuelson
Published: January 8, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Houston Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
Website: http://www.chron.com/

This year, the Texas Legislature will have the opportunity to consider reducing the punishment for an individual who is caught with less than an ounce of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine only.

Under this proposal, jurisdiction of these cases will lie with justice of the peace and municipal courts only. The current law provides that a person caught in possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana shall be punished by up to six months in jail, and up to a $2,000 fine.

Under the proposal by state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, a person found to be in possession of less than an ounce could not be sentenced to jail, but fined up to $500.

This is an important bill, because if it becomes law it will reduce the congestion in our courts, save taxpayers money and still provide an adequate means of enforcing the law. But the most important factor that must be considered is the fact that marijuana is not nearly as harmful as once believed.

In the 1930s, both the media and legislators depicted marijuana as an extremely dangerous drug, causing it to be banned in the United States in 1938. In 1972, after reviewing new evidence on marijuana and its effects, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse admitted that its dangers had been overstated. Since then, many studies on humans, animals and cell cultures have been conducted. None of them has contradicted the findings by the commission.

In fact, the overwhelming evidence available today strongly indicates that marijuana use is not nearly as harmful as once believed, and actually has therapeutic and medicinal values. Unlike nicotine and alcohol, marijuana is not physically addictive. There is no convincing scientific evidence that marijuana kills brain cells, impairs long-term memory or causes mental or physical illness.

The only "harmful" effects from the use of marijuana that have been proven are that an individual under the influence of marijuana will realize a loss of short-term memory, difficulty learning and recalling new information, and a temporary impairment of psychomotor function.

Yes, marijuana temporarily dulls the senses. But, unlike alcohol, a person who intends to operate a motor vehicle after smoking marijuana can immediately eliminate the loss of perception, and its other temporary effects on the brain, by eating a small meal.

As a criminal defense attorney, I can assure you that arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana are extremely rare.

Every serious scholar and government commission that has examined the relationship between marijuana use and crime have reached the same conclusion: Marijuana use does not lead to crime. Almost all human and animal studies indicate that marijuana decreases rather than increases physical aggression.

In Harris County, our 15 county courts, which currently have jurisdiction over marijuana cases, cannot keep pace with the large number of cases that enter the system on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for a misdemeanor case to take several months to be resolved because of the large volume of cases filed daily. Most of these cases involve alcohol related incidents, theft, and even incidents of violence. The removal of cases involving small quantities of marijuana from the county's responsibility will enable judges, prosecutors and probation officers to give their attention to these other cases of much greater significance.

Eleven states have laws on the books allowing an individual to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. Ten other states have enacted symbolic medical marijuana laws, which support the medicinal use of marijuana. Although the overwhelming degree of evidence has convinced me that the possession of small quantities of marijuana should be legal, reducing possession of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor is a compromise that is in the best interest of the public.

Note: Fines would cut court congestion.

Samuelson is an attorney in Houston.


Related Articles & Web Site:

Texans For Medical Marijuana
http://www.texansformedicalmarijuana.org/

Medical Marijuana OK, Says TMA
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread18912.shtml

New Group Backs Medical Marijuana in Texas
http://cannabisnews.com/news/thread18431.shtml

 

 

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