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Marijuana penalty bill scheduled for hearing in Texas House committee

A bill which would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a fine with no arrest, jail time, or criminal record has been scheduled for a hearing in the Texas House of Representatives’ Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

Introduced by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and sponsored by Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), HB 81 establishes a civil fine of up to $250, similar to that of a traffic ticket. Current law for possession of the same amount can lead to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine, suspension of driver’s license even if the offense is not related to driving, and a criminal record which follows a person for life.

While the bill reduces the penalty for possession of the plant form, concentrates, which are often used for cooking and vaporizing, will still remain a felony, possession of which can land a person in jail for up to two years and a $10,000 fine.

Rep. Moody is also the chair of this committee, and a similar bill passed out of committee during the 2015 legislative session. This indicates that passage of the bill in committee this year will likely be swift.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 13 at the capitol building in Austin. In all, 12 bills will be heard by the committee that day beginning at 2 pm. Those interested in signing up to support HB 81 can begin doing so at the capitol building starting at 8 am. It is unknown at what time HB 81 will begin receiving testimony.

Jax Finkel, the Director for Texas NORML, will be one of several people coordinating testimony that day. Those interested in going to the capitol are asked to dress professionally, and due to the large volume of supporters which will likely be there, any testimony should be brief and provided by those who have been arrested or convicted for a small amount of cannabis, or anyone with particular expertise on the subject.

“I am very excited for the upcoming hearing for HB 81,” Finkel says. “Chairman Moody has been a great ally for cannabis law reform as evidenced by his authorship of HB 81. We are working to provide targeted testimony from experts, law enforcement, judges, and more. I also encourage those that have been directly affected with a POM (possession of marijuana) arrest to join us. Even if you cannot be there on the day of the hearing there are other ways to be involved and participate, like reaching out to your personal representatives and sending in your testimony to the clerk via email.”

Since HB 81 was filed, almost 28,000 emails have been sent out to legislators in support of decreasing the penalty for marijuana possession according to Finkel. That works out to 190 emails each day.

Texans are asked to contact their own representatives and ask them to support HB 81.

Those interested in testifying can either submit their testimony in person or via email (rachel.wetsel_hc@house.texas.gov), and if you’ll be testifying orally at the hearing, print 12 copies, one for each legislator.

For more information about what you can do, visit Texas NORML.

To date, 40 legislators have signed on to support making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a fine, with nearly a third of the Texas House of Representatives supporting HB 81.

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*Updated 3/8/17 5:59 pm to reflect an email address change for the clerk, and that the fine will be civil, not a misdemeanor.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a 30 year old journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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