Dope and death Austin Before the Texas Controlled Substances Act was considered in the House, one proponent of drug law reform assessed the chances for real improvement with glum uncertainty. “It all depends,” he said, “on how many people vote the way they think they have to vote.” During the debate on reinstituting the death penalty, another liberal was weighing the consequences of a “nay” against his personal convictions. “It reminds me of reading Profiles of Courage. I can only be thankful that there were statesmen at some times and at some places. But then you can get away with things in the Congress, in the Senate, that you can’t get away with in a fucking little state Legislature.” Apparently, a majority of the members thought they had to vote “tough” on both bills. Tough on cop-killers, tough on kidnap-murderers and tough, tough, tough on pushers. THE DRUG BILL was first, and the House demonstrated its conservative bent early. It refused to table a last-minute complete substitute by Reps. tim Von Dohlen, Don Cavness, Robert Maloney, Frank Calhoun and Bill Sullivant, thus eliminating the more liberal vehicle provided by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Rep. Ron Waters of Houston, the most well-known marijuana reformer in the House, got only 17 votes in favor of decriminalization of private possession and use of marijuana \(Reps. Andrew Baker, Larry Bales, Terry Canales, Anthony Hall, Ed Harris, Joe Hernandez, Sam Hudson, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Nick Nichols, Paul Ragsdale, Ben Reyes, Senfronia Thompson, Craig Washington, Ed Watson,. Sarah were, it became apparent, about 40 marijuana liberals and 40 marijuana conservatives. Through hours of debate over what amount of marijuana should be considered misdemeanor possession, the question was where the great middle would fall. It fell, finally, for one ounce. For possession of that amount or less, on first offense, maximum punishment would be six months in jail and a fine of $1,000. For subsequent offenses involving any amount, or for possession of more than one ounce, conviction would bring two to ten years imprisonment and up to $5,000 in fines. The House did refuse to remove a provision included in the Von Dohlen version that would allow subsequent-offenses to be reduced to misdemeanors at the trial judge’s discretion, despite Rep. Bill Hollowell’s pointing out that “Even a pusher, even a pusher, if he’s got a small amount on him, can get a misdemeanor on second offense.” On most other votes, the majority took no chances of being soft. John Hoestenbach, an ex-prosecutor from Odessa, got real tough on pushers \(he used the phrase eight times in one two-minute co-sponsored with Tom Craddick of Midland. The members accepted, 116-11, a penalty of two to 99 years for delivery or possession with intent to deliver of They accepted, 122-6, a prohibition of parole for the first 20 years of the mandatory 99-year sentence for second-offense delivery of Schedule I accepted, 115-13, a five-to-99 penalty for delivery or possession with intent to deliver of amphetamines or hallucinogens. They accepted, 116-14, the same penalty for delivery of marijuana to a person under 17. Just for good measure, they got tough on possessors of heroin, 75-57, providing two-to-99-year prison terms for them. Rational discourse flourished. Hoestenbach dealt mostly in sheer quantity of denunciations, but weighed in with some individual gems as well. At one point, even the conservative Cavness rose to oppose one of the “get tough” amendments, a proposed denial of parole for 20 years to second-offense “marijuana pushers.” Hoestenbach asked him, “Do you think 20 years is too long for a guy that goes down to a junior high school right here in Austin and sells or gives marijuana to your kids, not only to get ’em hooked on marijuana, but to get ’em started on pills and cocaine and everything else? ” Hard-liners had long series of questions like “How much is a lid? What is a brick? ” for reformers, attempting to expose them as dopers themselves. Craddick’s voice broke into falsetto on several occasions, lending just the right touch of hysteria. Hollowell lit into Dallas moderate Rep. Jim Mattox, asking Hoestenbach “Isn’t it true that all Mr. Mattox is trying to do is protect the drug pusher, and that’s all he’s been doing all session? ” But the definitive comment was made, albeit inadvertently, by Joe Sage of San Antonio. After voting not to table the amendment raising penalties for heroin possession, Sage listened to further arguments for a minute and then said, “Possession? I thought we were talking about pushing.” Reformers could console themselves after the debate with some few victories. A Hoestenbach amendment to raise penalties for second-offense marijuana possession from two-to-ten to two-to-twenty was narrowly defeated. A life-without-parole amendment was beaten down. A provision allowing persons currently serving time for possession of marijuana to obtain a review of their sentences was adopted. And, though vehicle forfeiture for simple possession of marijuana remained in the bill, the degree of proof required to enforce it was changed from “preponderance of the evidence” to “beyond a reasonable doubt.” THE DEATH PENALTY debate was more subdued but also more nearly unanimous. Hoping to keep the act constitutional, the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee reported out a version of Rep. Dean Cobb’s bill that provided a no-jury-discretion approach, dictating mandatory death sentences for certain homicides \(murder of a peace officer or fire fighter, murder for hire, murder of a prison guard by an escaping inmate, tough enough for the House. By a 93-47 vote, murders during burglaries, robberies, forcible rapes and arson were also included as capital crimes. Rep. Terry Doyle of Port Arthur, who was supporting the bill, argued against the additions, saying they raised serious constitutional questions \(though he offered an amendment himself to add murder Lane Denton moved to reconsider and table the affirmative vote on the amendment, indicating he felt it rendered the bill unconstitutional \(in turn rendering a vote against the death penalty defensible May 25, 1973
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