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Texas marijuana decriminalization bill allows for 3 strikes

A bill to make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana in Texas a civil fine of $250 has been amended to include a three strikes rule. It may also be several weeks before the bill is considered for scheduling to the full Texas House of Representatives.

HB 81, filed by Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this past week on a 4-2 vote. One of the committee members, Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), was expected to vote yes on the legislation as well, however he was out of town at the time.

Voting in favor of the bill were both the Chair and Vice Chair of the committee, Rep. Moody and Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) respectively. Also voting yes was Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Marble Falls).

Voting no were both Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant) and Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury).

Before the vote, the bill was amended to include language which leaves in place the fine for a first offense. On the second and third offense however, a mandatory drug education class will have to be taken. After a third offense, a district attorney will be able to proceed forward with a Class C misdemeanor charge. Previously the legislation allowed for an unlimited number of offenses to be handled with fines.

The aim of this bill according to Rep. Moody is to free up police resources, and stop putting people in jail while giving them criminal records. Another aspect of this bill would prevent people from having their driver’s license suspended over a drug conviction, which is currently the case, even if a vehicle is not involved. This would no longer be in effect once a person commits a fourth offense.

Current law provides for a $2,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail, along with a mandatory six months driver’s license suspension.

At a hearing held earlier this year for HB 81, only one person spoke in opposition, Ector County District Attorney Robert Bland. His primary concerns were that officers would not be able to correctly charge people in the field if one amount required an arrest while another was only a ticket, and also that this would prevent officers from searching a person or vehicle if they smell marijuana.

HB 81 protects the ability for police officers to conduct a search if they smell marijuana.

A similar bill was passed during the 2015 legislative session, however it was never scheduled by the Calendars Committee to be heard by the full House. This has been attributed to the lateness in which the bill was passed by the committee.

During this session, House majority leader Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) was slow to form committees, however HB 81 made it out of committee in quick order. The bill will still have to wait on the Calendars Committee, which schedules all legislation to be heard, to clear their plate of all budget related bills.

This could take up to several weeks, however the Chair of the Calendars Committee, Rep. Hunter, has already shown his support for the bill by voting for it in the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. This is a good indication that the bill will keep traction, however it is still up to members of the Calendars Committee to vote for scheduling HB 81. It is not yet known whether there are enough yes votes to schedule the legislation.

Representatives of both Texas NORML and Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy have been at the capitol on a near daily basis to lobby for HB 81 and other bills. At this time, people are encouraged to reach out to their own representative and speak to them about supporting this penalty reduction bill once it leaves the Calendars Committee. However, they are warning that too many people contacting legislators in the committee who are not their direct representative could have an adverse effect on the bill’s chances for scheduling.

Should the bill reach the House, merely getting a recorded vote on HB 81 would be considered a historic step. Currently there are 39 legislators signed on in support of the bill out of 150 in the House, and others are expected to vote in favor if given the opportunity.

The biggest opposition will come from the Senate, where Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick is focusing on his preferred agenda, meaning that the Senate may not consider the bill, even if it passes from the House. There is also a roadblock in the form of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has in the past stated that he is in opposition to any move which would bring marijuana closer to legalization.

The 85th Texas legislative session is slated to end on May 29, 2017.

Stay up to date with the latest cannabis news from a Texas perspective by following the Texas Cannabis Report social media pages.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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  1. Donna
    April 13, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    I know that house bill 81 is for decriminalization, which would be great. However adults would still have to break the law to get marijuana. Marijuana should be legalized. It’s not dangerous; on the other hand, criminal activities surrounding marijuana can be very dangerous. By allowing dispensaries that are regulated, much like liqueur stores, we will take the power from the criminal’s and put it into the hands of legitimate business men and women. Criminals don’t care if they sale to a child, a legitimate business would only sale to an adult. Studies show that marijuana is NOT a gateway drug. Rather it’s the environment that’s the gateway. A pusher will push dangerous and addictive drugs on a buyer, a legal marijuana business doesn’t. Additionally, a criminal may push something that’s fake or laced. Such products can be fatal. People have found themselves in dangerous situations trying to buy weed illegally. Some of those people never made it out alive.
    States that have legalized marijuana are taking profits away from the illegal market and reducing the violent behavior associated with it. Tens of thousands of tax-paying jobs have been created by those states, along with hundreds of millions of dollars in state revenue. Regulations are in place that provides thorough management of marijuana production and distribution. By allowing adult’s to buy legal marijuana at a dispensary, Texas will be removing power and money from criminals, and will be putting it into the hands of the people, and the State of Texas.

    • Ty
      April 23, 2017 at 12:31 am

      Everything you said is common sense. But apparently, most politicians in Texas don’t have common sense or marijuana would already be legal. By continuing the criminalization of marijuana, they are just handing billions of dollars to dangerous criminals every day!

      • Donna
        April 25, 2017 at 8:32 am

        The politicians need to listen to the people. More than half the population believes marijuana should be legal. Also the people need to make it clear that they believe in legalization.

        Contact your representatives, attend rally’s and town hall meetings to let your voices be heard, vote for decriminalization and legalization, and vote for representatives who see the benefits of legalization, and will push to make it happen.

  2. April 13, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I was stunned to learn that there were more than 70,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Texas in 2012 alone. These arrests amount to tens of thousands of staff hours annually, possibly more. They distract police officers, lab techs, court personnel, and prosecutors from solving and preventing crimes that victimize others.

    It takes time to book marijuana users, fingerprint them, test marijuana, sit in court, prosecute cases, and impose penalties. A simple ticket that could be paid by mail would be a much more judicious use of limited resources.

    Here in Texas, 90% of reported burglaries, over half of reported rapes, and a quarter of all homicides from 2012 were unsolved. Reports indicate that a backlog of about 20,000 rape kits in Texas haven’t even been tested.

    Isn’t it time we got our priorities straight?

    Rep. Joe Moody filed House Bill 81 — which would institute a civil penalty for low-level possession of marijuana in Texas — and its companion bill, SB 170, was filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez. I hope you will support Rep. Moody, Sen. Rodriguez, and your constituents by vowing to establish a more sensible penalty for the possession of personal amounts of marijuana.

    Thank you for listening.

  3. Colleen
    April 13, 2017 at 7:16 pm

    This is decriminalizing Marijuana? It was just fine without the amendment. To much overthinking everything. Concentrate on the real criminals out there. I was excited to see this happen before……the amendment!!!!

    • Mark
      April 13, 2017 at 8:00 pm

      While I agree that it was fine, it will probably have a much better chance with that provision in it. Abbott is crucial because it won’t get 2/3ds in both houses, and he might not veto something with 3 strikes versus unlimited fines. It’s not really decriminalization proper, but it’s still a move in the right direction.

  4. April 17, 2017 at 5:10 am

    It is safe, there are safe ways to use it. Allow people to grow their own plants, and allow commercialization to offer their products and services. I’m sure “weed” is being “fought” for some reason, but the problem isn’t its use. The worst thing about it is… getting caught with it. Write your representatives, network with other like minded people around the state, make it a wedge issue for your support if you feel so inclined.

  5. ricky
    May 5, 2017 at 12:20 am

    Big alcohol has a monopoly on recreational drugs, they’re afraid of competition.

    Big pharma doesn’t want cannabis, It endangers their medical profits.

    Big justice industry uses cannabis as a cash cow.

    see what we’re up against – lobbyists & the ilk – do you know any ?

  6. ricky
    May 5, 2017 at 12:30 am

    When a lobbyist puts 50 thou cash into the pockets of our wonderful legislators, how do you think they’re going to vote ?