Marijuana penalty reduction bill sees first action in Texas legislature
A bill to reduce the penalty for marijuana possession in Texas took its first step today towards becoming law.
HB 507, which would decrease the penalty for possession of an ounce or less of cannabis to a $100 fine, was read for the first time on the Texas House of Representatives floor this afternoon and then referred to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
This is the first step that a bill takes after it gets filed in the legislature. From here it will receive testimony and debate in committee before potentially being voted on by committee members. A time has not yet been scheduled for Texans to testify to the committee concerning the bill.
The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee oversees all legislation pertaining to criminal law, prohibitions, standards, penalties, probation and parole, criminal procedure in the courts of Texas, revision or amendment of the penal code, and it has jurisdiction over the Office of State Prosecuting Attorney and the Texas State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.
Members of the committee include Rep. Abel Herrero who is the current Chair, Vice Chair Rep. Joe Moody, and representatives Terry Canales, Todd Hunter, Jeff Leach, Matt Shaheen, and David Simpson.
HB 507 was filed by Rep. Moody of El Paso.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody stated when introducing the bill. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
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.
“The War on Marijuana is a failure and has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, at tremendous human and financial cost,” says Matthew Simpson, policy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “It’s time to implement reforms that are fairer, more compassionate, and smarter at reducing drug dependency and improving our health and safety.”
According to the FBI, there were 72,150 arrests or citations 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.
More than 60 percent of Texas voters support limiting the punishment for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100 with no possibility of jail time, according to September 2013 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling.
A group called Texans for Responsible Marijuana policy has been pushing the bill, and they plan to hold a lobby day for both penalty reduction and medical marijuana on Wednesday, Feb. 18. There are also plans for the group to have a whole plant medical marijuana bill introduced soon as well.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
“Most Americans are fed up with laws that saddle people with criminal records just for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” said Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group which is part of the Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy coalition. “Texas simply cannot afford to continue arresting and jailing people for marijuana possession.”
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