A pro-marijuana ad debuting in Texas on Tuesday showcases a retired police officer who says the state should take a more "sensible" approach to marijuana policies because the drug causes far fewer problems than alcohol.
"I know of no instance in my entire career where someone was acting out under the influence of marijuana," says Russell Jones in the ad supporting a Texas House bill that would decriminalize marijuana, reducing the penalty for possessing less than an ounce to a maximum civil fine of $250. Current state law allows maximum penalties of six months in jail and a $2,000 fine for possessing less than two ounces.
"People under the influence of alcohol are much more problematic," adds Jones, a retired narcotics detective who served for 10 years in California and now lives in central Texas. "Law enforcement officials have more important things to do with their time than arresting people for marijuana possession. They need to be there to protect the public to respond to crimes such as robbery, burglaries, rapes and murders."
The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence approved the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Joe Moody (D), last week. The House must approve the bill by midnight Thursday for it to advance to the Senate.
The ad was sponsored by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy and was produced and paid for by the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project. It will air in the Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio markets on CNN, ESPN, and Fox News Channel beginning Tuesday, and will continue through the legislative deadline Thursday.
“This is commonsense legislation that is intended to reduce government waste and improve public safety,” Heather Fazio, Texas political director for Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “Voters want law enforcement officials to spend their time and resources addressing serious crimes, not arresting and jailing adults for simple marijuana possession. We hope the House will pass this important legislation before time runs out.”
A 2013 study from the American Civil Liberties Union found that black people, in general, are nearly four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at about the same rates. In Texas, which has one of the highest arrest rates for marijuana possession in the U.S., blacks are about twice as likely to be arrested for simple possession than whites. In some counties, that rate skyrockets, with blacks 34 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.
The bills face long odds of becoming law this year.
Still, recent polls show that few Texans agree with the state's current marijuana laws. A 2014 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that a majority of voters support legalization of medical marijuana, while nearly half support legalizing recreational marijuana. A 2013 Public Policy Polling survey found 61 percent of Texas voters in favor of decriminalization.
To date, 23 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized medical marijuana. Four states, as well as D.C., have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, and 19 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug.