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Texas Lawmakers Exploring Drug Law Reform

Is drug law reform coming to Texas?

That was the question at the center of a recent House Corrections Committee session where Texas lawmakers convened to discuss the possibility of changing the way the state prosecutes non-violent drug crimes. Texas is notorious for its harsh drug statutes but, last week, there was a talk of reducing non-violent drug crimes, such as possession, from a felony to a misdemeanor.

As My Statesman reports, the issue is already expected to be a hot topic for the 2017 legislative session. Until that time, the House Corrections Committee will study the issue and collect data to inform any new legislature. Such a shift in policy, for many, is overdue and addresses many of the challenges law enforcement agencies face when policing these crimes—particularly with addressing substance addiction.

"It's important to take a step back and look at what you're trying to accomplish," said Texas Criminal Justice Coalition policy analyst Doug Smith, who supports reform. "We're using a criminal justice intervention to stop someone from using drugs. What we've found is that is not happening. And the reason we want them to stop using drugs is that we don't want all the other ravages that come with that drug use—the property crimes, the destroyed families, things of that nature."

Debate Over Recidivism

Not all at the session supported the idea of reducing criminal penalties for narcotics possession. Representative Mark Keough reminded the session that even simple possession charges constitute several illegal acts and participation in a larger drug economy. "I can tell you unequivocally that if there's a greater penalty for something, that's going to cause me to think twice," said Keough.

Smith countered, however, asserting that there is no scientific data to suggest that the promise of criminal penalties can trump chemical dependence. "There is no study out there that will tell you that making something into a felony is going to dissuade someone from continuing to use because they are in the grips of addiction."

A New National Perspective?

Texas is not the first state to consider favoring diversion programs and addiction treatment over incarceration for drug possession offenders. In 2014, California passed Proposition 47, a law that reduced the number of nonviolent offenses (drug possession included) to misdemeanors to help reduce jail populations and fund community health programs.

Even in Harris County, a new approach is being tested. Last month, officials there announced that they would be using grant money from the MacArthur Foundation to re-examine their jail populations and provide new diversion programs for offenders from underserved communities, such as substance addicts and the homeless.

This larger shift in judicial policy represents a possible new perspective on how we view these offenses and what we can do to prevent them from happening. "The question is, do you put somebody in jail and give them a felony?" Representative Matt Krause told the session. "Is that the best thing we can do for them? Or is it better to figure out some other way to hopefully rehabilitate them without putting them in jail?"

If you or a loved one has been charged with a drug-related offense, the time to speak with proven and experienced counsel is now. At the Law Office of G. Thayer Williamson, our knowledgeable Dallas drug crime attorney is a former prosecutor who knows what challenges the accused face in these cases. We have helped countless of these clients navigate their charges and ensured that the best possible outcome was always placed within reach.

Start exploring your defense options with a skilled advocate by your side. Contact us for a free case evaluation today.