Texas could set $250 fine for marijuana in 2017
The first marijuana related bill has been filed for the 2017 Texas legislative session, and it makes possessing less than an ounce a civil fine.
Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, has filed HB 81, which is similar to the legislation he proposed during the 2015 session. His previous bill passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, however it died in the Calendar Committee waiting to be scheduled for a hearing by the full Texas House of Representatives.
Currently the penalty for possessing two ounces or less in Texas can lead to a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. It also often results in the suspension of driver’s license, even if no vehicle was involved.
An estimated 70,000 Texans are arrested each year for marijuana possession, most of it for small amounts.
HB 81 would set the maximum fine for possessing an ounce or less of cannabis at $250, and prohibits officers from making an arrest solely for possessing less than an ounce. It also prohibits courts from issuing an arrest warrant over such a matter, or setting bail, except in cases where the person has refused to appear. Any cannabis found is confiscated and held as evidence until the case has been completed, at which time it will be destroyed.
Courts would also have to consider if a person is indigent, and if a defendant is found to not be able to pay the fine, the court shall waive the penalty and may order the person to complete not more than 10 hours of community service.
The fine can also be reduced or waived if the defendant attends drug education classes or completes community service.
Those fined under the new law would not have a conviction on their record, and would also not have the fine be made publicly available. Anyone arrested before the law goes into effect would still be subject to current penalties. If passed, the new law will go into effect on September 1, 2017.
According to a June 2015 poll conducted by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune, 68% of Texans support efforts to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession. A more recent poll conducted by Texas Lyceum found that less than 20% of Texas voters still support prohibition. Most Texans favor marijuana policy reform.
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