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Sitting on a panel recently on drug legalization at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Perry said he’s for decriminalization, but not legalization. He cited Texas’ own softening, including use of so-called drug courts.

But if decriminalization has any meaning, people shouldn’t still be getting arrested and criminally charged for minor marijuana possession - absent compelling circumstances. In Texas, someone with less than 2 ounces of marijuana still faces up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

Many Texans - like the governor - lean toward an expansive view of states’ rights. So, it might stand to reason that they will be content to let Colorado and Washington state, with laws that amount to legalization and sale for personal use, do the experimentation before similar steps occur here.

But that doesn’t mean other states - Texas included - can’t also evolve more. There was a time in Texas when draconian punishment occurred for marijuana possession. Those days are gone. But, state law still is stiff.

Is that still too much punishment for this “crime?” And if it is, why is it still on the books, even if some Texas municipalities - Austin comes to mind - ticket rather than arrest?

The key is that phrase “up to,” local police, prosecutor and court discretion implied. And, still, according to FBI figures, there were 70,524 marijuana-related arrests in Texas in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. Of these, 98 percent were for possession, though the statistics don’t differentiate between amounts possessed.

If even a fraction of the 68,937 possession arrests in 2011 were for amounts for personal use, this would indicate still far too much of predilection for enforcement in Texas.

Connecticut, when it was debating a softening of its marijuana laws, found that 75 percent of its 9,290 marijuana arrests of individuals 18 and older in 2009 were for possession of less than half an ounce. These arrests consumed roughly $50.2 million in state and local law enforcement, the state estimated.

Consider then how much law enforcement and court resources were consumed by Texas’ 70,524 in marijuana-related arrests in 2011.

No one should construe Perry’s views - nor for that matter, the president’s recent comments on marijuana - as advocating marijuana use. Better altogether that people refrain from smoking pot.

Better also if Texas put more emphasis generally on drug treatment than enforcement. A 2012 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy said research demonstrated that every dollar spent on substance abuse treatment saves $4 in health care costs and $7 in law enforcement and other criminal justice costs.

Texas actually knows this. In state prisons, Texas spends more for treatment and rehabilitation, saving money for use in other parts of the corrections budget.

The federal report said early intervention, involving educating youth to the dangers of abusing all manner of substances, from alcohol and pot to heroin, also had proven efficacy in preventing or delaying substance use.

Marijuana is inarguably one of those substances, and law enforcement and the courts still give it attention. The question is, given the country’s attitude about alcohol, which could also arguably be labeled a “gateway” drug, has Texas’ evolution on this topic gone far enough?

Let’s have the discussion. Does the punishment for marijuana use fit the perceived offense in Texas?

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