Texas lawmakers to hold hearing on marijuana penalties this week
The Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence will hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill that would reduce state penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The hearing is scheduled to take place in the Texas State Capitol Extension E2.030 upon adjournment of the House.
HB 507, authored by committee vice-chair Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso), will be one of several marijuana-related bills considered by the committee on Wednesday. It is the only proposal that would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100. 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.
“When I was a prosecutor, I saw firsthand how scarce our criminal justice resources are and how disproportionately harsh drug convictions can be on nonviolent offenders, especially young people,” said Rep. Moody. “As a lawmaker, I have a responsibility to make sure we’re spending our resources wisely and treating our people fairly. That’s what HB 507 is about.”
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.
“Criminal justice resources are limited and we need to apply them where they’re needed the most,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. “Many law enforcement professionals agree that arresting people, jailing them, and giving them a criminal record for low-level marijuana possession does more harm than good.”
Prior to the hearing, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will deliver a petition to lawmakers signed by more than 15,000 Texans who support reforming the state’s marijuana laws. It can be viewed online here. 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 a September 2013 survey conducted by Public Policy Polling.
“Studies have dispelled the myth that reducing penalties for marijuana possession will result in increased use,” said Dr. William Martin, director of the drug policy program at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. “There’s no rational reason to maintain these draconian marijuana possession laws.”
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