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Getting caught with marijuana & no jail?

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Area residents caught in possession of marijuana could face punishment without jail.

If you're caught with small amounts of marijuana the punishment could change to where you pay hundreds of dollars less and don't have to go to jail. This is if House Bill 184 passes. It had a hearing in Austin Tuesday.

If passed, the bill would make it so those caught in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana would be charged with a Class C Misdemeanor instead of Class B, a fine of $500 instead of up to $2,000, and no jail time versus the current punishment which is up to 180 days in jail. 

Randall County Criminal District Attorney James Farren says, "The libertarian folks would tell us all drugs should be legalized. And it's up to every individual whether they want to ingest bad substances into their system and have it impact them... Whoever ingests these drugs and it has a detrimental impact on their health, you and I end up helping pay for it."

Mason Tvert, the Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project says people shouldn't have to go to jail if caught with the drug. He says, "There is no justification for throwing adults in jail for possessing small amounts of a product that is objectively less harmful than alcohol." But Potter County Sheriff Brian Thomas says, "Don't use that analogy that marijuana is less lethal than alcohol. It's all in the amount of it too."

Thomas says a lot of supporters think marijuana is the same from the 60s, but the THC is higher content now. He says, "The synthetic stuff is what's killing our people, and it's damaging them physically. And this is attached to that (bill). So I don't agree with what the bill is."

Supporters argue it would give law enforcement more time to focus on arresting criminals. Tvert says, "The proposed bill would allow law enforcement officials to focus their time and resources on violent crimes and other threats to public safety." Thomas says, "Jail wise itself, it would reduce our population of course. I'm not for it. I believe that the marijuana is a dangerous drug."

Farren says about 20% of the inmates in Randall County were caught with or selling marijuana. And Thomas says in Potter County there are about 20 people behind bars for possession of less than two ounces of the drug. He says, "If it's reduced down to a Class C (misdemeanor), we write them a ticket just like a traffic ticket. I just don't think that that's what it should be."

Jessica Abuchaibe, NewsChannel 10. 

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