For the first time, Gov. Abbott signals support for reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession.
During the first televised debate between himself and challenger Lupe Valdez, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signaled his support of reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Specifically, the governor said, “I would be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for [marijuana] possession of 2 ounces or less from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor.”
The governor’s shift in opinion comes just months after the Republican Party of Texas included in their platform support for a “change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time.”
Texas arrests more than 60,000 people annually for marijuana possession. In recent years, lawmakers have put forward various proposals to reduce penalties. Chairman Joseph Moody’s HB 81 got the most traction during the 2017 legislative session. It was scheduled for a vote by the Texas House of Representatives, but failed to meet the deadline. If passed, the measure would have made possession of one ounce or less a civil, not a criminal penalty. Law enforcement would issue a citation and fine, but the offender would avoid a permanent criminal record, which carries lasting collateral consequences such as diminished access to education, employment, and housing.
Valuable public safety resources are being wasted when law enforcement is tasked with arresting people for marijuana possession. Most Texans agree that it is time for the legislature to enact a more sensible approach!
Both Gov. Abbott and Sheriff Valdez’s full comments on marijuana law reform can be found here.
Thank you for your support and advocacy. Change is coming to Texas and it’s thanks to people like you!
On August 11, hundreds of Texans gathered in Austin for the first-ever Texas Marijuana Policy Conference.
Conference speakers discussed state and federal marijuana policy from personal and professional perspectives. We heard from state and federal lawmakers, professional athletes, policy experts, and advocates, including veterans, patients, and caregivers. Here’s the full list of speakers from the event.
We are less than three months away from the legislative pre-filing period, which is when we expect to see marijuana related bills introduced. We’re excited about our opportunities for reform during the coming legislative session. Thank you for your support!
This weekend’s conference will feature state and federal lawmakers, professional athletes, academics, scientists, medical professionals, policy experts, law enforcement officials, and advocates, including veterans, patients, and caregivers. Here’s our full conference agenda.
Throughout the conference, we’ll hear from speakers about various issues relating to marijuana policy. We’ll discuss cannabis as an alternative to opiates for pain and making the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive for patients with debilitating medical conditions. Speakers will also dive into the nuances of marijuana criminalization, including the patchwork policies we see throughout our state as local law enforcement moves away from arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession.
Federal policies are rapidly changing, but experts will help us better understand where Congress stands now and how we can affect real change nationally. In addition to an expert panel, we’ll hear from Congressman Dana Rohrabacher who has been leading bipartisan efforts to protect states that have decided to regulate cannabis, rather than prohibit it outright.
A large majority of Texans — 69 percent — would support reduced penalties for possession of small amounts of [marijuana]. Only 21 percent were opposed to that proposition, which the poll phrased this way:
“As you may know, currently, the maximum penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana can include up to 180 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000. Would you support or oppose reducing punishment for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a citation and a fine of $250?”
That reflects an increasing permissive attitude even among conservatives. At their recent state convention, Texas Republicans adopted a similar plank for their platform: “We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time.”
Younger Texans might be pushing the issue, but age alone isn’t driving the changes in public opinion.
“We’ve seen this movement take place in a much shorter period of time than the age differences would produce,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT-Austin’s Texas Politics Project. He noted that support for medical marijuana has remained relatively stable over several UT/TT polls, even as Texans’ permissiveness has shifted from “never.”
Join us in Austin for Texas’ first statewide marijuana policy conference to learn more about the shifting political climate and the prospects for reform when our Legislature convenes in January.
Texas is now surrounded by states that no longer prohibit access to cannabis for patients with their doctor’s recommendation.
By a double digit margin, Oklahoma voters approved a proposal to “legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes.”
Oklahoma is arguably one of the most conservative states in the US and voters have sent a very clear message: It’s time for a change! This move by our northern neighbors adds to the momentum of advocates who want to see Texas’ unreasonably restrictive Compassionate Use Program made more inclusive.
BALLOT TITLE FOR STATE QUESTION NO. 788 This measure amends the Oklahoma State Statutes. A yes vote legalizes the licensed use, sale, and growth of marijuana in Oklahoma for medicinal purposes. A license is required for use and possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and must be approved by an Oklahoma Board Certified Physician. The State Department of Health will issue medical marijuana licenses if the applicant is eighteen years or older and an Oklahoma resident. A special exception will be granted to an applicant under the age of eighteen, however these applications must be signed by two physicians and a parent or legal guardian.
The Department will also issue seller, grower, packaging, transportation, research and caregiver licenses. Individual and retail businesses must meet minimal requirements to be licensed to sell marijuana to licensees. The punishment for unlicensed possession of permitted amounts of marijuana for individuals who can state a medical condition is a fine not exceeding four hundred dollars. Fees and zoning restrictions are established. A seven percent state tax is imposed on medical marijuana sales.
SHALL THE PROPOSAL BE APPROVED? FOR THE PROPOSAL – YES AGAINST THE PROPOSAL – NO
A “YES” vote is a vote in favor of this measure. A “NO” vote is a vote against this measure.
We’ve known for some time that a majority of Texans support reforming our state’s outdated and unreasonably harsh marijuana laws. Now for the first time, all political parties on the ballot in Texas have officially declared their support for reform!
In April, the Libertarian Party of Texas reaffirmed their long-held support for repealing prohibition entirely. Over the weekend, they were joined by the Texas Democratic Party. While they didn’t go quite as far, earlier this month, the Republican Party of Texas declared their support for several types of marijuana law reform, including a call on the legislature to replace criminal penalties for low-level possession with simple civil citations. Finding common ground is critical in politics and this shift in opinion puts advocates in an excellent position to pass meaningful reform when the Legislature convenes in January!
Making the offense civil, rather than criminal, would eliminate the threat of arrest, jail time and (most importantly) the permanent criminal record currently associated with even small amounts of marijuana. That means Texans would not have their futures jeopardized for simply possessing marijuana, a plant we know to be objectively safer than alcohol, tobacco, and many prescription drugs.
With support from 82% of delegates, the Republican Party of Texas calls for state and federal level marijuana law reform Last week in San Antonio, nearly 10,000 Texas Republicans gathered from across the state to attend to party business, including a vote on Saturday to decide what issues belong in their platform. “A majority of Americans want to see marijuana laws reformed. Republican delegates demonstrated over the weekend that they are no exception,” says Heather Fazio, spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Among over 300 planks, four cannabis-related issues were adopted: Civil Penalty: We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time. (83% support.) Compassionate Use Act: We call upon the Texas Legislature to improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to recommend to certified patients. (82% support.) Cannabis Classification: Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and moved to Schedule 2. (90% support.) Hemp: We recognize industrial hemp as a valuable agricultural commodity. We urge the Texas Legislature to pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products. (83% support.)
Republican delegates made clear that they are dissatisfied with current marijuana policies and want to see changes made by elected officials at the state and federal level. The Civil Penalty plank adopted on Saturday calls for a change in the state law that makes low-level marijuana possession a civil (not criminal) offense punishable by a $100 fine, but no jail time. A similar bill was introduced during the last two legislative sessions, but didn’t gather enough support to pass into law. Advocates are hopeful that, with the support of the Republican Party, the proposal will gain enough traction next session to be enacted. “Sensible marijuana policy is not a partisan issue. It’s a matter of deploying public safety resources more efficiently and ensuring that penalties don’t carry the harsh collateral consequences currently associated with even a tiny amount of marijuana,” says Fazio. Current criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession include up to six months in jail, thousands of dollars in fines, and a life-long criminal record that hinders a person’s access to higher education and employment opportunities. A conviction also leads to an automatic six-month drivers license suspension as well as a five year suspension of the individual’s license to carry. Even in conservative Texas, lawmakers are being sent a clear message: it’s time for a change.
In 2015, our legislature passed the Compassionate Use Act (SB 339), a bill that allows limited access to cannabis for those with a very rare form of epilepsy.
Last year, Texas State Rep. Eddie Lucio III authored and championed a bill (HB 2107) that would have made medical cannabis available to those with a variety debilitating health conditions. While the proposal was ultimately unsuccessful, it did earn bipartisan support from more than half of the Texas House of Representatives, including three of the four members who are physicians by trade.
Stephen Sealey of ValleyCentral.com reports that Rep. Lucio III continues his work on this issue:
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III pushes for legalized medical cannabis
Today in El Paso, the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is discussing the following interim charge, as assigned by the Speaker of the House:
Interim Charge 3: Study current practices for the enforcement of criminal laws against low-level possession of marijuana. Examine the use of alternative punishments and improvements to criminal enforcement mechanisms and community supervision.
The committee is hearing invited testimony from local officials and advocates.
This new poll reiterates what we have known for some time — Texans are ready for reform!
With bi-partisan support, Chairman Joseph Moody has taken a leadership role on this subject, introducing a “civil penalties” bill during the last two legislative sessions. The proposal would institute a civil citation to replace the arrest, jail time, and criminal record currently associated with small amounts of marijuana.
Last year, Chairman Moody’s bill passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and was scheduled for a vote by the Texas House of Representatives, but was beat by the clock. Our Texas Legislature will reconvene in January, offering advocates another chance to pass meaningful reform in the Lone Star State.
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