This piece originally appeared at the Austin American-Statesman.
Recently, Waco School District Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson was arrested for possession of a small amount of marijuana during a routine traffic stop. The news of his arrest was covered by media across the state. Mr. Nelson, a school official widely praised for his leadership, resigned late last week after his arrest, disappointing his supporters in the community.
In the aftermath of Mr. Nelson’s arrest and resignation, broader questions have emerged for Texans to ponder: Why are we punishing community members by excessively criminalizing a substance that continues to be legalized throughout the country and has proven medical benefits? For his part, Mr. Nelson stated he had purchased the marijuana for chronic back pain, a claim that is supported by scientific evidence.
By criminalizing marijuana in Texas through archaic drug laws, are we hurting communities more than helping them? Importantly, are we really making Texans safer?
These questions have not been totally lost on Texas lawmakers; our legislature is currently considering a number of marijuana reform bills seeking to decriminalize the substance to varying degrees. For example, House Bill 63, a bipartisan proposal authored by Representative Joe Moody that was just passed by a House committee, would reduce the penalty for possession of a small amount of marijuana – under two ounces – from a criminal charge with a sentence of up to six months of jail time to a ticket with a fine.
Currently, Texas wastes hundreds of millions of dollars arresting, crowding the courts, and jailing ordinary Texans for low-level marijuana possession. Despite the decades-long “war on drugs,” our current drug policy has failed to reduce marijuana use and availability and has only diverted valuable resources that could be better invested in protecting our communities and supporting crime survivors. Instead, we waste taxpayer dollars targeting nonviolent marijuana offenses while Texans struggling with drug addiction go without treatment due to lack of resources.
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