Texas votes decriminalization legislation

A Texas House committee voted in favor of a marijuana decriminalization proposal on Monday, March 25. The new bill would make possession of a small amount of cannabis punishable by a fine, with no jail time or a criminal record.

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved the legislation in a 5-2 vote and passed it to a separate panel in charge of scheduling bills for floor debates.

Removing jail time for low-level possession

The first two offenses for possession of one ounce or less would be punished with a $250 fine. A third offense would be treated as a class C misdemeanor – still a lesser penalty compared to existing Texas law.

Possession of two ounces or less is currently considered a class B misdemeanor and carries a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. It also goes on a permanent criminal record, which can seriously impact an individual’s employment, housing, and credit prospects.

During the committee’s hearing on the legislation in March, the lawmakers listened to testimonies about how a low-level cannabis conviction affects one’s life in the long term and what law enforcement resources could be freed up if possession was not considered a criminal charge.

Other marijuana-related reforms

Although the legislation presupposes a modest change to current law in Texas, advocates hope the full House will take it up while also contemplating other cannabis-related reforms such as broadening the state’s limited medical marijuana policies.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

While the conservative stronghold remains doubtful about the legalization of recreational marijuana or even expanding the medical cannabis program, Texas Republicans are becoming increasingly positive about removing the threat of jail for possession. For example, last year, Republican Party delegates adopted a program for marijuana decriminalization.

“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the plank states.

Even Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has given tentative support to the policy and stated his willingness to back a proposal that would reduce penalties for simple possession.

Abbott said during a gubernatorial debate last year that he opposes “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana” and suggested that simple possession should be treated as a class C misdemeanor carrying a lesser penalty.

The legislation has been authored and co-authored by 32 lawmakers, according to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

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