The Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee has approved the decriminalization of marijuana, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.I
n a move which would have been unthinkable just two years ago, the committee voted 4-2 to approve a measure by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and send it to the full House.
“Making possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil issue instead of a crime,” Moody said. “Police won’t make arrests for it, they will just issue tickets, telling the offender when and where to show up at a Justice of the Peace court.”
Moody says the maximum fine for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana would be $250, and it would frequently be lowered if the person agrees to undergo substance abuse class. It would not give the person a criminal record, would not involve any jail time, and would not involve an arrest or probation.
“We have seen that the current policies are failing their communities and our families,” Heather Fazio of the Texas Marijuana Policy Project told News Radio 1200 WOAI. “We are seeing people from all across the political spectrum looking to find a sensible way forward.”
Fazio was particularly pleased with the fact that the vote in the committee for the measure was two Republicans and two Democrats.
Currently, even a first offense marijuana possession carries arrest, a criminal record, up to six months in jail, and ruinous fines of up to $2,000.
“No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” Fazio said.
She points out that there were 61,000 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015 alone. She says more than two thirds of Texans support reducing the penalty for low level marijuana possession to a citation and small fine. Only 26% are opposed.
But one important vote against any sort of liberalization of Texas marijuana laws has historically been Gov. Greg Abbott. He warned when he was signing a bill passed in the 2015 Legislature to allow very narrow use of cannabis oil for certain seizure patients, that he didn’t think that the state’s marijuana laws should be further loosened.
But there is one big difference this year. Many law enforcement groups, which previously opposed marijuana decriminalization, now support it, with many officers saying they are tired of spending half their shift arresting 19 year olds for possessing a joint of marijuana, while serious crimes are occurring. Many pointed out that it frequently takes them four hours to arrest, process, and take to a magistrate a marijuana suspect.
Many law officers also see that eight states have completely legalized recreational use of marijuana, without negative side effects, and, in some cases, drug related crime rates have actually fallen.
There are several marijuana bills in the Legislature this session. They range from legalization of medicinal marijuana for PTSD sufferers to complete ‘Colorado style’ legalization.