Monday afternoon the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard arguments both for and against a bill that could reduce marijuana penalties in the Lone Star State.
Authored by Texas Rep. Jason Isaac (R) and Joe Moody (D), House Bill 81 would reform the mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for individuals caught with less than 1 ounce of marijuana. Removing the threat of incarceration or a criminal record, HB 81 would replace the current penalties for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana and exchange them for a civil penalty of no more than $250.
Enjoying strong support from a diverse group during the committee hearing, Texas District Judge John Delaney and retired Houston Police Department Lt. John Hall both testified in support of the bill.
Speaking out in favor of HB 81, Hall noted, “At the present rate we put the citizens as collateral damage because of the fact that we’re not spending more time solving the violent crimes.”
Currently staring down the barrel of the $2,000 fine and a six-month jail sentence, those individuals caught with less than 2 ounces of cannabis in Texas face life-altering consequences.
In 2015 alone, Texas law enforcement participated in 61,749 marijuana-related arrests. From 2010 to 2015, over 415,000 residents were arrested and prosecuted at the substantial expense of the taxpayers, according to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy:
“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts, and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,” according to Judge John Delaney. “Each marijuana arrest uses about 2.5 hours of police time. With 60,000-70,000 people arrested in Texas annually, this is a significant amount of police time that could be devoted to patrolling residential neighborhoods and business locations and responding to emergency calls.”
When last surveyed by the University Of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll, respondents showed growing support for the medicinal herb. The poll found 83 percent of those surveyed support the idea of legalizing medical marijuana, while 53 percent support legalizing recreational cannabis. Of those saying “yes” to legalization, 32 percent support legalizing “small amounts,” while another 21 percent support legalizing “any amount.”
Provided House Bill 81 makes it out of committee, the reform bill could be headed for the House floor for a full vote.