Texas Cannabis Penalty Reduction (HB 81) – March 2017

March 14, 2017

Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
Texas House of Representatives
Austin, Texas

RE:   H.B. 81 (Moody)

Members:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today in support of H.B.81.

My name is Bryon Adinoff. I am a member of the faculty at UT Southwestern Medical Center, but am here strictly as private citizen expressing my own opinions. I am an addiction psychiatrist and have been living in Dallas since 1995. I have published and spoken widely on the biological effects and treatment of addictive disorders1 and I am the Editor of The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.

Speaking as an addiction neuroscientist, there is no doubt that the chronic, heavy use of marihuana has potentially harmful effects. But the vast majority of people who use marijuana do not develop a problem with marijuana use. For these users, the most dangerous effect of marihuana is getting arrested for marijuana possession. The harm that accompanies being arrested for marijuana typically far outweighs the potential dangers of the marihuana use itself. At a minimum, the arrest record and conviction, the suspension of a driver’s license, and the loss of federal financial aid can have severe consequences to even the casual marijuana user. I know that you will hear from many others today who will speak to the personal consequences and societal costs of these overly harsh laws.

As an addiction psychiatrist, I can also speak to the clinical relevance of the present penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana. I really do not know of any. There have been between 65,000 and 75,000 arrests in Texas for marijuana possession each year over the past 10 years.3 But little has changed in marijuana use patterns. In fact, marijuana users take little notice of the penalties. These laws serve little, if any, deterrent effect. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently reported that the lowest rates of marijuana use in the United States were in south Texas, along the border.4,5 In contrast, rates in central Texas are nearly double that. Same state laws, much different rates of use.

Laws against marijuana possession used to be far harsher. These laws did not stop marijuana use back then and they do not stop it now. I have never had a marijuana user tell me that the penalty for marijuana possession influenced their decision as to whether to use it or not. What influences marijuana use or addiction is its cost, the perception of harm, and availability, as well as a users genetic make-up, personality, environment and co-occurring medical and psychiatric problems. The penalty for use plays little role in this decision.

In summary, the state laws for possession of small amounts of marijuana do not deter marijuana use. They do, however, cause lifelong consequences to the person arrested. There is much good, and no downside, to H.B. 81. I hope you will support this reasonable and just proposal.

 
Bryon Adinoff MD

Bryon Adinoff, MD (DFCR Executive Vice President) is an addiction psychiatrist and academician. He recently retired from his position as Distinguished Professor of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and as a psychiatrist for 30 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs. He has published over 175 papers and book chapters on the neurobiology and treatment of addiction and is Editor-in-Chief of The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. In his semi-retired status, he is evolving from focusing on the consequences of substance use itself to the consequences of the drug war. As a Founding Member, his commitment to the goals of DFCR arises from his desire to ensure that the harsh, punitive prohibition of cannabis use is replaced by a regulatory system that protects both the individual and society.

  1. Adinoff publications: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=adinoff+b
  2. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/iada20/current#.VafsK7ftTwQ
  3. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/26/this-map-shows-how-many-people-are-getting-high-near-you/?utm_term=.bd0f91e1961f
  5. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/substate2k12-ExcelTabs/NSDUHsubstateTOC2012.htm
Posted in DFCR, DFCR Member Testimony.