Sheriff Testifies Against Lesser Drug Penalties

Huge marijuana busts result in kudos for law enforcement. But what about when a person is found with a joint or two. Sometimes police can spend hours booking the person. Perhaps lower penalties as proposed in House Bill 758 would be the remedy.   Sheriff Thomas Kerss of Nacogdoches County explained,  " It would basically lower the penalty group for less than 2 oz of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor." It's currently a Class B misdemeanor.

Kerss testified against the bill last week in Austin. He's legislative committee vice chair for the Sheriffs Association of Texas. Kerss said,  " Number 1 with the drug problem we have, we think that's sending out the wrong message, especially to our youth."

A companion bill, House Bill 759,  deals with possession of a controlled substance. Those in possession with less than a gram, about what you find in a sweetener package would go to county jail, rather than state prison. Kerss said that too sends the wrong message, but also fills up county jails that are already burdened with overcrowding. Kerss said, " We are now taking inmates that currently the state of Texas would be burdened with. The responsibility of housing and feeding and we're putting that back on the local taxpayer by putting them in the county jail as opposed to the state jail."

Kerss saw in Austin a witness provide an effective demonstration. The witness had 2 oz of oregano, which represented marijuana. He then showed how that small amount could be rolled into 45 separate joints. Kerss remarked, " That's a significant amount of marijuana and so the bill as it's authored really doesn't send the message that I believe is representative of our community and certainly good law enforcement."

The proposals are still in committee, but Kerss says that's the best place to debate proposed legislation. He says once it reaches the floor many legislators' minds are made up.