Marijuana penalty reduction bill passes Texas committee
A marijuana penalty reduction bill which recently was considered dead in the Texas Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is alive again.
House Bill 507, submitted by Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, originally failed a 3-2 vote in committee. It was revived however and ended up passing 4-2.
The bill would make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a fine of up to $250, and offenders would no longer be arrested or subjected to a criminal record. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“Texas cannot afford to continue criminalizing tens of thousands of citizens for marijuana possession each year,” Rep. Moody said. “We need to start taking a more level-headed approach. It is neither fair nor prudent to arrest people, jail them, and give them criminal records for such a low-level, non-violent offense.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 72,150 arrests or citations issued for marijuana-related offenses in Texas in 2012, 97 percent of which were for simple possession. That same year, nearly 90 percent of all burglaries, including home invasions, and 88 percent of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved.
Chairman of the committee Rep. Abel Herrero, Vice Chair Rep. Moody, Rep. David Simpson, and Rep. Terry Canales voted in favor of the bill.
Rep. Matt Shaheen and Rep. Jeff Leach both voted in opposition while Rep. Todd Hunter was not present.
Dozens of people testified in favor of the bill at a hearing last month.
The bill now awaits scheduling by the Calendar Committee for a vote in the full Texas House of Representatives.
“This is a change that Texas needs, and it’s a change that Texans wants,” said Ann Lee, executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP). “We hope our elected officials will do the right thing here and listen to their constituents. Our state needs to get out of the business of arresting and criminalizing people for possessing marijuana.”
“RAMP continues to bring the simple message to Republican offices that $250 million dollars per year and an estimated 50,000 criminal convictions do not produce the desired outcome of lower rates of marijuana use,” said John Baucum, RAMP political director. “Marijuana is not a minor issue. It is a major expenditure, and the policy is not working.”
According to a poll conducted by the University of Texas in February 2015, 76% of likely voters in Texas favor reform of marijuana laws.
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