By Carlos Caro
Cannabis criminalization in Texas stretches back to El Paso in 1915 with a city ordinance outlawing its use. Ever since then cannabis criminalization has spread in the State of Texas. This, in part, has helped fuel the state in having one of the largest prison populations in the country. According to 2017 U.S. Census estimates, 12.7% of Texas’ population is African-American1, yet when we analyze 2017 DPS arrest data African-Americans make up 28% of all possession arrest2. The historical basis of our nation’s cannabis laws are rooted in xenophobia and racism.
Not only is there a racial disparity involved with cannabis prohibition in the state, there is an alarming age trend with regards to whom is arrested. According to 2017 Department of Public Safety data 64,519 Texans were arrested for cannabis possession. Of those arrested, 32,397 were between the ages of 17-24. This age group represents high school and college aged youth and makes roughly 50% of all arrests for cannabis possession in the state3. This represents a 21% increase from 26,756 arrests among this age demographic from the last time the legislature met in 2017 and had DPS data from 2015 to compare to4. At the same time in 2017, 89% of all burglaries, over 60% of all reported rapes, and over 25% of all murders went unsolved according to DPS clearance rates5. Imagine how these clearance rates could dramatically increase if our valuable law enforcement officers were to focus their time and efforts on crimes against property and the individual as opposed to enforcing an outdated and racially charged statute in the Texas penal code against cannabis.
As an educator I see first hand the impact of collateral consequences among our youth for a misdemeanor cannabis arrest. Having a drug charge on your criminal record can greatly hinder your opportunities for professional growth by limiting your ability to earn professional licensing or certifications from the state. The collateral consequences of having a drug charge can also limit your ability to serve in our armed forces, apply for public housing and even get in the way of earning federal financial aid for higher education. This, in turn, limits the economic capacity of our state by branding our youth with the Scarlet Letter of a misdemeanor cannabis charge.
Regardless of where one stands on the issue of cannabis, we should all agree that our tax dollars should not be used to pack our jails with non-violent, non-threatening fellow Texans. Nor should our tax dollars be used to rob thousands of young Texans who are aspiring for a better future. Texans all across this state deserve fair and equitable treatment under the law and HB 63 does just that by fairly applying a civil penalty across the board for all Texans regardless of race, class or ethnicity and not on the whim of individual law enforcement officers or the local District Attorney.