Dutton Proposes Easing Pot Penalties
State rep wants possession of small amounts reduced to misdemeanor.
By Jordan Smith, 9:34AM, Wed. Feb. 7, 2007
Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, has again filed legislation to reduce the criminal penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. House Bill 758 would reduce possession of up to 1 ounce of pot to a class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $500 fine only, and would downgrade the possession of up to 2 ounces to be a class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to 180 days in county jail). Possession of up to an ounce could net jail time, but only when a defendant has been popped and convicted of minor possession three times within two years. Nationally, marijuana-related arrests have skyrocketed over the last decade, reaching an all-time high of nearly 800,000 pot arrests in 2005, according to FBI statistics released in September. Of those, nearly 88% were for simple possession; 75% of those arrested were younger than 30.
HB 758 mirrors pot decrim legislation Dutton filed in 2005, and although that bill received a generally favorable hearing in the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, it ultimately languished without enough votes to move forward.
For now it is unclear whether Dutton's latest drug-law reform bill will face better odds of passage this year: Lawmakers have made it clear they want to be smarter on criminal-justice issues and to cut costs associated with a bloated prison system - goals that would be achievable, in part, by reducing the number of inmates locked up for low-level drug and alcohol offenses. Yet, with the departure from the Capitol of veteran Austin lawmaker and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chair Terry Keel, the chairmanship has been turned over to Rep. Aaron Pena, D-Edinburg, who hasn't exactly proven himself to be progressive on pot-related issues. In 2005, Pena proposed laughable legislation to ban the sale of lollipots, candies containing marijuana-derived extracts (such as those from the plant's flowers), saying the candies - which are imported with FBI and U.S. Custom approval and have been sold in the U.S. for nearly a decade - were nothing more than a means to "entice our children into a life of illegal drugs."