Texas Lawmakers Pass Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
A Texas House of Representatives legislative panel this week unanimously approved a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure, House Bill 218, was approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a vote of 9-0 on Tuesday.
If passed, the legislation would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or cannabis concentrate. Such possession would be reclassified as a Class C misdemeanor, a citable offense not subject to arrest and carrying a fine of up to $500.
“Basically, the person is given a ticket goes to court, they’re assessed a fine, then the court tells them, ‘You’ve got six months to pay and you need to stay out of trouble during that time,’” Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody said at a committee hearing for the legislation on Tuesday, according to a report from Marijuana Moment.
The bill requires courts to defer adjudication of the citation while a probationary period is served. If completed successfully, the charge can be expunged from the offender’s record.
“If the person does their part, the court dismisses the charges, and on a request of the individual, deletes the entire record of it,” said Moody, the chair of the committee. “The person walks away lighter in the wallet but without any criminal record whatsoever.”
Bill Reduces Penalties For Marijuana Possession
House Bill 218 also reduces the penalties for other marijuana offenses, reducing possession of one to two ounces of marijuana to a Class B misdemeanor that is not subject to arrest. Possession of between two and four ounces of pot would be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation also includes provisions providing for the expungement of some past marijuana possession convictions.
“I’ve been on a journey with this one,” said Moody. “The essence of this bill is really simple even though the language may be a little bit confusing.”
Under current Texas state law, possession of up to two ounces of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor. Possession of two to four ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, subject to up to a year in county jail time and a fine of up to $4,000. Possession of more than four ounces of pot or any amount of cannabis concentrate is a felony.
“There are tens of thousands of arrests for personal use possession in Texas annually and those cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, not to mention countless hours of law enforcement and prosecutor time,” Moody told the committee on Tuesday. “They also tag people, mostly young people, with criminal records that create life-long obstacles to jobs, education, housing and other opportunities. That’s an awful investment and an awful outcome any way you slice it.”
House Bill 218 now heads to the House Calendars Committee, the panel responsible for scheduling floor action on the legislation.
Local Pot Decriminalization Bill Also Pending
Moody’s bill is not the only marijuana policy reform proposal pending before Texas lawmakers. Last month, Democratic state Rep. Jessica González introduced legislation that would let county and municipal governments legalize recreational marijuana at the local level. The measure, House Bill 1937directs the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation to adopt all necessary rules for the administration and enforcement of the bill, including licensing, regulation, testing standards, and transportation.
“Twenty-one states in America have legalized cannabis, and twenty-seven states have decriminalized the use of cannabis. In a recent study, a majority of Texans supported some form of legalization of cannabis use,” González said in a statement. “While Texas has made progress with the Compassionate Use Act, we have been left behind on a potential revenue source that would increase investments in public education, stop unnecessary arrests for cannabis possession, and create jobs in our state. We should allow our local communities to make the best decision for themselves regarding cannabis legalization, and House Bill 1937 would allow that for adults 21 years or older.”