Texas is big on freedom and big on economic prosperity but legalizing marijuana may be a step too far for some. While other nearby states are experimenting with loosening the reins on marijuana use, Texas’ sheriffs are not about to allow it without a fight.
A new marijuana decriminalization bill has just been introduced to the Texas legislature, but the Texas Sheriff’s Association has stated publicly that if they have any say, marijuana will not be coming to Texas any time soon, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
What’s more, the Sheriff’s Association doesn’t at all believe that decriminalization is inevitable, despite the arguments of marijuana advocates.
“The Sheriff’s Association position is that we are going to oppose any effort to decriminalize marijuana, or legalize medical marijuana or any of the components of marijuana,” Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk told News Radio 1200 WOAI. “Of course, we will vigorously oppose any effort to legalize marijuana.”
House Bill 507, the proposed legislation, would turn criminal penalties into civil fines. At the moment, possession is punishable by a maximum fine of $2,000 dollars and six months in jail. If passed, the new bill would entail that for possession of amounts lower than an ounce, police could only fine users up to $100 dollars. Starting January 13, the legislature will boot back up after the holiday period ends, at which point the bill will be one of the first orders of business.
“It’s a good government measure that will save taxpayers lots of money and free up law enforcement resources for more serious offenses,” said Democratic State Rep. Joe Moody.
A poll conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project in Texas found that 61 percent of support reduced penalties for small amounts of marijuana. An additional 58 percent expressed support medical marijuana for seriously ill patients if recommended by their doctors.
According to Sheriff Kirk, marijuana advocacy groups follow a similar strategy. First, they argue for medical marijuana and then push for general decriminalization. Once favorable legislation is passed, marijuana groups agitate for full-on legalization.
Currently, 18 states have some kind of legal medical marijuana regime, but so far advocacy efforts haven’t been successful in moving towards legalization. In Texas, groups like Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, the ACLU, the Marijuana Policy Project, and Texas for Responsible Marijuana Policy have all thrown their support behind the legislation.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry remains opposed to legalization, but has obliquely supported some form of decriminalization.
“Texas doesn’t seem to be ready for a full legal market,” Heather Fazio, a representative for MPP in Texas, admitted. “That doesn’t mean that the conversation shouldn’t be happening.”