After a successful hearing this Monday, Texas joins the wave of states considering the decriminalization of marijuana as House Bill 81 flies past the committee with GOP support.
HB 81 was created by El Paso democratic representative Joe Moody, and would effectively decriminalize the possession of cannabis throughout the Lone Star State.
“The state’s current policy of arresting and jailing people for simple marijuana possession is completely unwarranted,” explained Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. She argued, “Law enforcements officials’ time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes.”
Currently, if an individual is caught with one ounce or less of marijuana in Texas, they would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor and possibly face up to six months in jail.
Fazio points out, “No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.”
If HB 81 is passed, anyone stopped with one ounce or less would be ticketed rather than face charges and/or jail time.
A last minute change to the bill to gain GOP support allows a judge to raise the offense to a Class C misdemeanor if the individual caught has previously been cited three times for low-level cannabis possession. Moody explained the revision during the hearing, “If you’re going to be a frequent customers, you will be moved into the criminal arena.”
This revision helped the bill pass the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a 4-2 bipartisan vote on Monday.
Republican support is crucial for the survival of this bill because it now advances to the Calendars Committee which is composed of 10 Republicans and 5 Democrats. How the Calendars Committee feels about this bill will determine the progress of legislation through the House.
While this is just an early step for HB 81, it is a significant move for a state that has been historically against marijuana normalization.
Photo courtesy of Allie Beckett.