AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Police chiefs and sheriffs from across Texas urged lawmakers to reject legislation that would expand medical marijuana use and decriminalize low-levels of pot possession.
One of the bills the Texas Police Chiefs Association and Sheriffs Association of Texas oppose passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in a 5-2 vote on Monday. House Bill 63 would downgrade low-level marijuana possession from a criminal penalty to a civil one.
Law enforcement leaders said at a Tuesday press conference they support using marijuana for medicinal use when there are no alternatives available for patient treatment, but they argue other states that have legalized weed face greater public safety threats.
“When consumers believe or see that something is legal there’s a perception that it must be less harmful and that is just not the case,” Grand Prairie Police Chief Steve Dye said.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties in Texas support the state taking steps to decriminalize weed.
“The policy proposed by this bill is in line with the Republican and Democratic Platforms as well as numerous other states. Such a change will save taxpayers money and allow police and the courts to re-prioritize their resources toward addressing more serious crimes,” said Texas NORML Executive Director Jax Finkel. The organization focuses on cannabis law reform.
“Minor marijuana possession offenders, many of them young people, should not be saddled with a criminal record and the lifelong penalties and stigma associated with it,” Finkel said after House Bill 63 was passed out of committee.
Collin County Sheriff Jim Skinner urged lawmakers to consider more than the health benefits, but also the risks that come with ingesting a drug. He warned of possible unintended consequences such as people driving with intoxication levels he deemed would be unsafe. He also suggested cities and counties consider the financial impact.
“A statute might permit a municipality or county to opt out. For example, permitting retail marijuana sales stores in a jurisdiction. But cities and counties will face big incentives to allow them,” Skinner said. “Why? Because the sales tax revenues.”
Cannabusiness was the focus of a series of panels at SXSW earlier this month.