Texas House ordered to study marijuana enforcement methods
A committee in the Texas House of Representatives has been directed to study marijuana policy in the state.
House Speaker Joe Straus (R) gave the order for the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence to “study current practices for the enforcement of criminal laws against low-level possession of marijuana.”
Rep. Straus also asked the committee to “Examine the use of alternative punishments and improvements to criminal enforcement mechanisms and community supervision.”
Arrests for marijuana possession in Texas have ranged between 52,000 and 75,000 each year over the past 10 years, and some estimates put the price tag at $10,000 per arrest. A number of major counties around Texas have already set out on their own to implement policies which reduce the amount of people arrested for marijuana.
Rep. Joe Moody, who chairs the committee and filed legislation to reduce marijuana penalties earlier this year, remarked on Twitter that the discussion over cannabis policy will be “amplified” after this move.
Responding to Tom Angell with Marijuana Moment, Moody stated “Means the cmte that will consider decrim in 2019 will develop recommendations for the #txlege over the next year. Discussion gets amplified.”
While hearings went well for the bill and it was passed out of committee, the legislation was not scheduled for a vote quickly enough in the House and ultimately died when the session ended.
“During the legislative session, lawmakers failed to enact sensible marijuana policy changes,” states Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for Marijuana Policy Project. “However, the topic being considered in an official way during the interim means that there will be significant conversation about Texas’ current marijuana laws and meaningful changes that can be made to improve public safety and our criminal justice system.”
Even after the legislative session ended this summer, Fazio and others continued to meet with lawmakers in preparation for the 2019 legislative session when state lawmakers will next meet and have the opportunity to change the law.
“Advocates intend on continuing conversations with lawmakers throughout the state, and at the Capitol when marijuana policy is being discussed,” she added.
This comes on the heels of a legislative session which has seen far more progress than any other. Rep. Moody’s legislation HB 81 had 41 legislators officially sign on in support. A medical cannabis bill, HB 2107, also passed out of committee, and was officially supported by more than half of the House’s 150 members.
Rep. Straus, who has been in office since 2009, announced last month that he does not intend to run for re-election. This has the potential to upend the House as legislators jockey for the Speaker position. Whoever wins will determine the make up of committees and who runs them, along with what sort of legislation will be tackled, or in some cases, ignored.
Legislation for the 2019 session can be filed starting in November of next year, though activists in Texas are setting their sights on the primaries and general election first where they hope to elect more legislators who are interested in reforming the state’s marijuana laws. Texas NORML is set to release their annual voter guide early next year which provides voters with information concerning how the candidates stand on various marijuana issues.