Scott Henson, in the Grits for Breakfast blog, suggests that budget-challenged Texas consider reacheting down drug penalties one notch all the way across the board both for felony levels and misdemeanor marijuana charges. He says savings to county budgets would be significant as well, particularly as it regards marijuana arrests, and lowering penalties would free up police officers to focus on more important crimes. Possession of an ounce of weed is a Class B misdemeanor, which means police arrest people, and the arresting officer is out of circulation for some period of time for booking and processing. The county must pay for attorneys for the indigent among them, jail and court costs, etc. Most sentences are probated, misdemeanor probation caseloads become bloated, fines and fees collected don’t cover costs, particularly for indigent defendants, and the process comes to seem rather pointless, he says.
Last year, nearly 58 percent of Texas’ drug possession arrests were for marijuana. At a time when clearance rates for offenses from burglary to murder are low, these data represent misplaced crime fighting priorities, Benson argues. Texas law enforcement arrested 69,956 adults for marijuana possession in 2009. If 80% of those were ticketed without arrest, that would have been 55,965 fewer arrests statewide. Assuming each arrest takes the officer off the street for one hour, reducing this penalty would be the equivalent of adding nearly 7,000 8-hour officer days to perform other, more important tasks, without paying one dime extra.