Weed Watch: Legislators seek reduced punishment or decriminalization
Reps. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, and Terry Hodge, D-Dallas, who are on the committee chaired by Rep. Terry Keel, R-Austin, were receptive to Dutton's proposal although Hodge expressed some reluctance at requiring court-ordered substance-abuse risk assessments (which she seemed to think was somewhat superfluous and contrary to the measure's attempt at serious budget savings). Surprisingly, no one stepped up to testify against the measure and one victim advocate, Travis County's own Ellen Halbert who served as a member of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's oversight board and is currently head of the Travis Co. District Attorney's victims assistance office urged support for the bill in a letter presented to the committee by ACLU attorney Ann del Llano. According to Halbert, the measure makes "really good sense," and would free up resources that should be targeting offenders who really "need to be in jail." Indeed, del Llano said, the measure would make minor pot possessors "pay into the system, instead of the system [having to] lay out tax dollars" to prosecute and incarcerate them. The bill was left pending so that Dutton could amend it to provide an enhanced penalty for repeat offenders and a provision that would send those convicted under the new law to some sort of class, akin to that required for minors convicted of alcohol possession.
In other pot-related news, Vermont state Rep. Winston Dowland earlier this month introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana and create a state system for regulation and taxation akin to alcohol regulation. In a press release, Dowland said that pot prohibition has failed in his state. Approximately 10% of Vermont residents smoke pot each month, Dowland said. "Prohibition simply has not worked," he said. "How many more billions of dollars are we going to spend on this failed policy before we stop and consider whether there might not be a better way?"