AUSTIN, Texas ― The
House Bill 63, penned by El Paso Rep. Joe Moody (D) could mark a watershed moment for marijuana reform. Texas led the nation in possession arrests with 63,599 in 2016, the last year for which state-by-state data is available from the
Sharing the longest stretch of border with Mexico, the U.S.’s main foreign source of pot, and surrounded by states that have legalized medical or recreational use, Texas is home to one of the country’s largest black markets for weed and crisscrossed by traffickers moving marijuana from the fields of California to the states of the Southeast.
“It’s time to stop throwing away taxpayer money and law enforcement resources, and be smarter,” Moody said on the floor of the Texas House.
Moody originally aimed to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana altogether by punishing it with civil sanctions alone. But the version that passed the floor by a bipartisan vote of 98-43 instead drops possession of less than one ounce of raw cannabis to a class C misdemeanor.
The offense would carry a fine of up to $500, but the bill would prevent police from arresting or jailing users for that crime alone. Those convicted of small possession would no longer lose their driver’s licenses for six months. The bill would also create a process to automatically defer cases after the fine is paid and court orders are completed, allowing marijuana users to avoid getting slapped with permanent criminal records.
Under current law, possession of two ounces or less of marijuana, the lowest chargeable quantity, is punishable by up to six months in jail, fines up to $2,000 and the temporary revocation of one’s driver’s license.
“We’re certainly disappointed that marijuana possession retains a criminal penalty,” Heather Fazio, director of the advocacy group Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told HuffPost. “However, Rep. Moody has demonstrated tremendous leadership in working with both sides of the aisle to find common ground … and to keep a charge of marijuana from derailing someone’s life.”
It remains to be seen whether the law will make it past the Republican-dominated state Senate.
We’re certainly disappointed that marijuana possession retains a criminal penalty. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy
Marijuana prohibition has lost favor among Texas Republicans in recent years. The state GOP’s platform,
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said in a gubernatorial debate last year that he supported
Public opinion also favors a shift away from marijuana criminalization. Some
Law enforcement organizations are the only major constituency opposing the rollback of small-time marijuana criminalization, led by
But Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the Texas Senate,
The state legislature created a medical marijuana program in 2015. But the program is limited to people suffering from intractable epilepsy, and the THC level of products in Texas dispensaries is capped at 0.5 percent. Accessing those products requires a prescription from a physician, which contradicts federal law. Other states with medical cannabis programs only require a doctor’s recommendation to skirt the problem.
A bill that would expand the medical program passed out of committee earlier this month, but has yet to be scheduled for a floor vote. Patrick opposes that legislation, too.