As of September 1, people caught with up to a quarter-pound of marijuana in Texas will no longer automatically be arrested. Under HB 2391, a bill passed by the legislature and signed into law June 15 by Gov. Rick Perry (R), police will have the option of issuing a summons to appear for misdemeanor pot possession, as well as a number of other small-time offenses.
The measure was pushed by conservative legislators as a cost-cutting measure. "We want to get tough on crime, but we also want to get smart on crime," said state Rep. Jerry Madden (R), the bill's author. "Let's not spend a lot of taxpayers' money putting people in jail who don't need to be there," Madden told Fort Worth Star-Telegraph columnist Bud Kennedy last Saturday. "Let's give local police more discretion."
Possession of marijuana remains a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. But now, instead of using up valuable police time and jail space with marijuana and other misdemeanor offenders, police will have the discretion of just ordering them to show up before a magistrate within 48 hours. If they don't show, the magistrate can issue an arrest warrant.
Other offenses for which police can now issue summonses include petty theft, graffiti, and driving without a license.
"The idea was to free up more county jail space and law officers' time for violent offenders and sex offenders," said Marc Levin of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization that lobbied for House Bill 2391. "We looked at how to save counties money. We always came back to the same answer: Take the low-level offenders out of the county jail," he told Kennedy.
Leave it to Texas to wise up about criminal justices priorities, even if just a bit. And it wasn't bleeding hearts, but bleating wallets that did it.