FYI: Decriminalization of Cannabis Does Not Mean Weed Will Be Legal in Texas
Well, Rick Perry wants to decriminalize pot in the state of Texas. But don't start sparking up that celebratory joint just yet. It may not mean quite what you think it does.
If you haven't heard the news, Rick Perry threw out his support for marijuana decriminalization in Texas during the World Economic Forum in Switzerland recently, and it was a bit surprising, to say the least. In years past, Perry's stance on drugs has always been a bit, well, punitive, and that "decriminalization" talk sure did sound like a mighty big change of heart. But when it comes down to it, would the decriminalization that Perry is touting really mean huge policy changes on marijuana in the state of Texas?
Unfortunately, the short answer to that question is "no." Decriminalization is not equivalent to legalization of marijuana in any form or fashion, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. There are some big differences between the two terms, and they're differences you might want to know about, because the differences could mean rehab on one hand, and a thriving pot industry on the other.
When it comes to decriminalization, the term means what it sounds like. To decriminalize pot means that it would no longer be a crime for which you would face jail time for simply possessing pot, but pot as a substance is still completely illegal. If it's on you, you can still be punished for it, just not in criminal court. And if you're selling it -- even in a less shady "pot shop" -- you can still face criminal charges, because selling pot remains a criminal offense under decriminalization.
Photo by Cannabis Culture via flickr
And legalization is a term that also means what it sounds like. To legalize pot is to allow the sale and use of cannabis to adults, with regulations on the sale of marijuana, much like the ones that exist for the sale of alcohol. Under legalization, pot is legal, you can use it if you're an adult, and if you're a licensed, taxed and regulated business, you can sell it. Legalization is worlds away from decriminalization.
Removing criminality by way of decriminalization, which is what Perry is talking about, when it comes to pot is great and all, at least in theory. No jail time for a dime bag of weed seems like a huge step. But it's not legalization, and it seems a bit dishonest to use the terms interchangeably.
So given that decriminalization, which is what Perry is proposing for Texas, has a vastly different protocol than legalization, it's important to know how it will affect our state. Let's take a look at what decriminalization would really look like for Texas, shall we?
Decriminalization in Texas means that pot possession "doesn't necessarily mean jail time," but you'll still face rehab or fines if you're caught with it.
Weed isn't legal under decrim laws. You can't have it on you. But if you aren't a violent criminal, a dealer or in possession of a large amount of pot, under decriminalization, there's a good chance you won't go to jail for simple possession. It doesn't mean you won't face incarceration by way of treatment in a rehab, though. And according to Perry's camp, it can also mean more of a financial punishment, by way of fines associated with possession. So you probably won't go to jail -- although you still could -- but even if you don't, you probably won't like where you're headed.
Decriminalization still involves the court system if you're caught with weed.
Sure, you won't be labeled as a hardened criminal for having weed on you. But under the guidelines proposed by Perry, you'll still have to go to court. Only this time it will be "drug court," which will offer alternative penalties, which are "softer" and will be more likely to order treatment. So basically the drug court could send you to rehab for smoking pot, and that still seems like an utter waste of time and resources.
This story continues on the next page.