If Freakin' Oklahoma Can Go Soft on Pot, Surely Texas Can, Too

Every week, managing editor Patrick Williams disappears into his office and reemerges a cranky, nicotine-addicted, third-person-referring superhero we like to call Buzz.

The message that rolled into our inbox earlier this week was upbeat. A "juggernaut of marijuana bills" is rolling its way through legislatures across the nation, the Marijuana Policy Project proclaimed. Medical marijuana bills were looking hopeful from Illinois to New Hampshire.

"Our broader reform efforts are advancing in Rhode Island and Maine, where we worked with legislators to bring forward bills that would regulate marijuana like alcohol -- our ultimate goal," wrote Karen O'Keefe, MPP's director of state policies. "We also had a big week in Maryland, where a decriminalization bill was approved in committee, and a separate bill to end marijuana prohibition entirely has now been scheduled for a hearing."

Meanwhile, back in Texas ... well, shit.

On Tuesday, Texas legislators heard testimony on a bill from Representative Harold Dutton that would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by no more than a $500 fine. That wouldn't make us Colorado -- oh, happy, happy Colorado -- but it'd be a step forward from the current Class B misdemeanor, which carries up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail. This is the second go-around for Dutton's bill. It didn't make out of committee last session, and Tuesday's hearing was just to "lay the bill out," a staffer at his office said.

Television station KVUE in Austin was at the hearing, where they picked up this grim tidbit:

"I found out that we spend $10,000 to prosecute on cannabis charge, yet for a year of schooling for one student the state of Texas spends $8,498," said Austin parent Jaclyn Finkel. "So we actually spend more to put someone in jail for a nonviolent offense than we spend to educate our children."

In Texas we don't mind if our children are stupid. We just don't want them to feel good about it.

While Dutton's bill was getting laid out -- what an unfortunate-yet-accurate way to put it -- another measure, which would provide an "affirmative defense" (read: a legal out) for sick people who use weed under a doctor's recommendation, is making its sixth appearance before the House, is awaiting its own laying out.

That's right: Sixth. Anyone feel lucky? Is there reason for hope this session?

"Ultimately, there is a debate taking place," says MPP spokesman Mason Tvert, "and the more that debate takes place, the more people support taking a sensible approach."

Yeah, Mason? We've also been talking about flying cars for a while now, too, and Buzz still doing his hot-boxing at sea level.

Still, Tvert did have something to cheer us up. (And no, dammit, it wasn't a baked good.) Late last month, he told us, a committee in the Oklahoma House voted unanimously to reduce punishment in a state where a second offense for simple possession gets you two to 10 years in prison. (The corn may be as high as an elephant's eye in the Sooner State, but don't you even think about it, pardner.)

Nevertheless, you should take heart, Texas. If Oklahoma can take a tottering step toward the 21st century, maybe the Lone Star state can pass a sensible marijuana reform in, say, the next seven sessions. And if that doesn't cheer you up, then remember those five little words that always make Texans proud: "At least we're not Okies."