Marijuana ads to air in major Texas cities

HB 507 to decriminalize marijuana possession


SAN ANTONIO – It's the final push for a group wanting to decriminalize marijuana in Texas.

A cable TV ad began airing Tuesday in a few major cities, including San Antonio. The ad is in support of a bill that would make having under an ounce of pot only a citation offense. But local law enforcement says some of the commercial's arguments don't add up.         

In the ad, Russell Jones, a former narcotics officer in California and current Texas Hill Country resident, says "Law enforcement officials have more important things to do with their time" than arrest people for possessing pot.

Though he is a proponent of legalizing the drug, Jones told KSAT he's backing the decriminalization bill, because "I think people in Texas are ready to have this discussion."

More than 70,000 people were arrested in Texas in 2013 on marijuana possession charges, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau says very few people in the county jail are there only for a small amounts of marijuana.

Pointing to one day where there were only 15 such people in the jail, she adds, "Most of them weren't eligible to bond out, because they had violated a condition of their pretrial release or probation."

Another concern Jones raises in the ad is the use of police time.

"They need to be there to protect the public, to respond to crimes such as robberies, burglaries, rapes and murders," Jones said.

But Pamerleau believes they don't spend much time pursuing small drug offenses, which are usually in conjunction with something else.

Similarly, First Assistant District Attorney Woodward Halstead says those crimes are the sort of things detectives would handle. Low-level possession arrests are usually something a patrol officer would deal with.

"Because of the different investigatory nature involved, we don't see that as being a problem," Halstead said.

The ad is scheduled to air on CNN, ESPN, and Fox News in the state's four biggest media markets, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, through Thursday at midnight, the deadline by which the Texas House must approve House Bill 507 for it to advance to the Senate.

HB 507, authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250.

Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine up to $2,000.

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