Will Texas Do Better?

Drugs: No Texas sunrise

Will Texas Do Better?
Illustration by Jason Stout
Elliott Naishtat
Elliott Naishtat
Photo by John Anderson

Nationally, public opinion is firmly in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and public support is growing for full legalization of pot for use by adults – marked by the historic votes last month in Colorado and Washington state that will do just that. But it's safe to say that Texas officially wants no part in either helping sick patients or bringing in new tax revenue if it means dealing with the demon weed.

Nonetheless, two lawmakers – Democratic Reps. Harold Dutton of Houston and Austin's Elliott Naishtat – persistently try to push their colleagues in that direction. Naishtat hasn't yet filed a medi-pot bill for this session, though we suspect one might be on its way. And Dutton has already refiled his two perennial favorites, measures to lessen punishments associated with possession of illegal drugs. HB 184 would decriminalize possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana or synthetic marijuana by adults, making the possession a fine-only offense. Thus far that hasn't persuaded his colleagues, so over the years Dutton has added lagniappes, including making the possession a class B misdemeanor (punishable by up to six months in jail) if the person is popped three times or more in a two-year period; repeat offenders would not be eligible for probation. Not exactly a freewheeling legalization measure. Still, despite the fact that the bill could divert thousands of folks from county jails, saving counties much money, its chances of passage are virtually nil. Dutton has also filed a similar decriminalization measure that downgrades punishments associated with possession of small amounts of other drugs, including LSD, heroin, and cocaine: Possession of less than a gram, or fewer than 20 hits in the case of LSD, would be a class A misdemeanor (six months in jail) instead of a state jail felony (two years in a state jail). Again, a commonsense downgrade, therefore unlikely to catch fire.

Fortunately, also unlikely to win passage is HB 124, the perennial proposal from Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, to criminalize Salvia divinorum – a hallucinogenic member of the sage family of plants – and place it in the category mainly made up of barbituates, anti-anxiety drugs, hypnotics, and sedatives that includes diazepam and peyote. Anderson has been on a quest to make every part of the plant, also known as Mexican sage, illegal to possess. But he hasn't gotten much traction because the plant is also a promising substance for use in the treatment of schizophrenia, depression, and Alzheimer's disease, among others. The medical research community has so far been able to keep at bay Anderson's bid to criminalize yet another plant, and there's no reason to think that won't continue to be the case in 2013.

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