Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Author: Bryan M. Samuelson
Published: January 8, 2005
Copyright: 2005 Houston Chronicle
Contact: [email protected]
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
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.
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
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
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.
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