Texas Cannabis Decriminalization (HB 63)

March 4, 2019

Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Texas House of Representatives Austin, Texas

RE: H.B. 63 (Moody)

Members:

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today in support of H.B.63.

My name is Bryon Adinoff. I recently retired after 23 years as the Distinguished Professor of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center and over 30 years as an addiction psychiatrist in the Department of Veterans Affairs. 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 cannabis has potentially harmful effects. But the vast majority of people who use cannabis do not develop a problem with cannabis use. For these users, the most dangerous effect of cannabis is getting arrested for cannabis possession. The harm that accompanies being arrested for cannabis typically far outweighs the potential dangers of the cannabis 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 cannabis 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 cannabis possession each year over the past 10 years.3   But little has changed in cannabis use patterns. In fact, cannabis 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) reported that the lowest rates of cannabis 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 cannabis possession used to be far harsher. These laws did not stop cannabis use back then and they do not stop it now. I have never had a cannabis user tell me that the penalty for cannabis possession influenced their decision as to whether to use it or not. What influences cannabis use or addiction is its cost, the perception of harm, and availability, as well as a user’s 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 cannabis do not deter cannabis use. They can, however, cause lifelong consequences to the person arrested. There is much good, and no downside, to H.B. 63. I hope you will support this reasonable and just proposal.

  1. Adinoff publications: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=adinoff+b
  2. The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse: www.tandfonline.com/IADA
  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.