Texas legislature to consider bill reducing penalties for marijuana possession
Texas State Representative Joe Moody (D–El Paso) introduced a bill Monday that would reduce state penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Representative Moody announced the details of H.B. 507 at a news conference hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. He was joined by retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney and representatives from the coalition including ACLU of Texas, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody said. “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.”
The proposed law 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.
“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.
“Giving a ticket for small amounts of marijuana makes sense,” Judge Delaney said. “The fine can be paid by mail, so police, prosecutors, and our courts will be able to use their limited resources for more important matters.”
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.
“There is broad support for reducing marijuana possession penalties, and it spans the political spectrum,” said Ann Lee, executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. “The prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility, and personal freedom. There is nothing conservative about it.”
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. “Texas simply cannot afford to continue arresting and jailing people for marijuana possession.”