On Wednesday, the Dallas City Councilapproved an ordinance that attempts to reduce the damage done by Texas’ outdated statewide marijuana policy: Those found with four ounces or less of marijuana will no longer face an initial arrest. This approach will spare the individual a degrading trip to jail, and it’ll save valuable law enforcement resources. Well done, Dallas!
We’ve seen Harris County take a very unique approach, thanks to their bold District Attorney. Now, we see Dallas joining several other cities by ceasing to arrest for low-level marijuana possession. Instead, they will issue a summons. Unfortunately, however, due to harsh state laws, this still requires the individual to face a judge, six months of jail time, and criminal conviction at a later date.
State Rep. James White, a conservative representing southeast Texas, is the most recent joint-author of HB 2107, a bill that would make the Compassionate Use Program, Texas’ unreasonably restrictive medical cannabis program, more inclusive for patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions.
The Texas Compassionate Use program was passed into law in 2015 and is currently being rolled out by the Department of Public Safety. If left unimproved, the program will struggle to provide adequate access for even the limited patients it’s designed to benefit. (See program overview here.)
Texas House Bill 2107 (and Senate companion SB 269) would correct the flawed provision which requires doctors to break federal law in order to provide access to their patients. The bill would also make the program more inclusive by adding to the list of qualifying conditions, lifting the arbitrary restriction on THC (a proven therapeutic component of the cannabis plant), and providing protections for patients using cannabis legally under the program.
Rep. White joins Rep. Jason Isaac, a conservative from central Texas, as a joint author, giving Rep. Lucio III’s bill the kind of conservative support it needs to advance in the legislature.
Contact your legislators now to encourage their support of compassionate access to cannabis for patients with debilitating medical conditions!
Great news! Chairman Joe Moody’s House Bill 81, which would replace criminal penalties for marijuana possession with a simple ticket, has passed out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a bipartisan vote of 4-2. An amendment was made that allows for three civil citations, then possession of 1oz or less becomes a Class C Misdemeanor. Once it’s posted, you’ll find the exact language here.
Aye: Rep. Moody (D), Rep. Hunter (R), Rep. Wilson (R), Rep. Garvin-Hawkins (D)
Nay: Rep. Lang (R) and Rep. Hefner (R)
Now, the bill is headed to the Calendars Committee — the group of legislators who manage the voting schedule for the Texas House. What can you do to help? Contact your representative in preparation for the vote. Send an email now or call their office to voice your support for a more sensible approach to low-level marijuana possession cases.
If your representative serves on the Calendars Committee, he/she holds the key to when HB 81 will be voted on by the full House of Representatives, and your voice is especially important.
The chair of the Calendars Committee is Rep. Todd Hunter. In 2015, he supported marijuana law reform by voting for the Texas Compassionate Use Act and Rep. Simpson’s bill to regulate marijuana like jalapeños. Additionally, he voted for HB 81 when it was before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this session. We hope that this will have a positive bearing on the rest of the Calendars Committee. The committee will be addressing the budget and will not be addressing HB 81 until after that.
Once the Calendars Committee schedules the bill for consideration, all 150 Texas representatives will cast a vote on marijuana policy for the first time in decades. Now is your chance to help prevent thousands of Texans from being branded with life-altering criminal convictions.
Proposal to Reduce Marijuana Penalties in Texas to Receive Hearing TODAY in House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
At 3:30 p.m. CT, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will hold a pre-hearing media availability with supporters of HB 81, including retired Texas law enforcement officials, a Baker Institute fellow, and leaders of Texans for Accountable Government and the Texas Young Republican Federation
* Statements below from bill sponsor and Committee Chairman Joe Moody and retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney *
AUSTIN, Texas — A bill that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Texas is scheduled to receive a hearing today in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will hold a pre-hearing media availability at 3:30 p.m. CT outside of Room E2.014 in the State Capitol. The hearing is expected to begin later in the afternoon.
Supporters of the bill who plan to participate in the media availability and testify at the committee hearing include retired Texas District Judge John Delaney; retired Houston Police Department Lt. Jay Hall; Baker Institute fellow Dr. William Martin; Texans for Accountable Government Executive Director Michael Cargill; Texas Young Republican Federation President John Baucum; and Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. The measure is also supported by the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas Association of Business.
“I’m proud to present HB 81 to the committee and build on the bipartisan support it’s had from the very beginning,” said Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso). “This sort of reform crosses party lines because it’s a law enforcement issue, a business issue, a social justice issue, and a taxpayer issue we can be a lot smarter on. It’s time for Texas to take a nationwide lead on marijuana policy.”
HB 81, authored by Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) with 35 co-authors, would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
There were 61,749 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015, and there were more than 418,000 from 2010-2015, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. These arrests and subsequent prosecution have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts, and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,” said retired Texas District Court 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.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in 2015, declaring it “strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana use” and encouraging pediatricians to “advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.”
More than two-thirds of Texans (68%) support reducing the penalty for low-level marijuana possession to a citation and $250 fine, according to a June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Only 26% were opposed.
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Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy is a broad coalition of organizations, activists, and community leaders dedicated to realizing effective, efficient, and evidence-based marijuana policies in Texas. For more information, visithttps://www.TexasMarijuanaPolicy.org.
Marijuana reform in Texas is set to take center stage Monday as lawmakers in Austin discuss a bill that would eliminate the arrest, jail time, and criminal record associated with a small-time pot charge.
Advocates say House Bill 81, a bipartisan measure authored by Democrat Joe Moody and Republican Jason Isaac, actually has a decent chance of clearing the legislative hurdles it must overcome to make it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk (where it’s still hazy if it would even get a signature). That’s because the bill, which would replace handcuffs and jail with a simple $250-max civil fine for anyone caught with an ounce or less of pot, is snaking its way through the legislature way earlier than similar measures did last session. In 2015, two bills that would have decriminalized pot possession gained preliminary approval from lawmakers but were never scheduled for debate before the full Texas House.
Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn’t expect that to happen with HB 81 this time around for a couple reasons. For one, Moody, the bill’s main author, boasts tough-on-crime bonafides as a former prosecutor and is vice chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which will hear testimony on the bill Monday. And assuming it makes it out of committee (where it’s being heard a month earlier than last session), pressure’s on to get it scheduled for a floor debate.
“Every minute maters when we’re on such a strict time limit with the Legislature,” Fazio told the Current. “That it’s being heard in committee this early, that gives us a lot more time to mobilize and build pressure and to move this issue forward.” She added that, if the House manages to take up pot reform this session, “it would be the first time they’ve seriously discussed a marijuana reform bill since the ’70s.”
Fazio says the public pressure part should be easy. Surveys and public opinion polls continue to show the majority of Texans favor decriminalizing pot, which has in recent years become one of those “right on crime” issues that conservatives have crossed the aisle to support.
And so have law enforcement. Consider that the state’s largest jurisdiction now won’t even bother prosecuting such small-time cases. As of this month, law enforcement officials in Harris County will no longer arrest and prosecute people caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana, a crime currently punishable under state law by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Under their new plan, all misdemeanor pot defendants have to do is pay $150 fine, take a “decision-making” class and they avoid jail time and a criminal record. With some 4.5 million people in the region, it’s almost like another state just decriminalized pot. And defense attorneys here have pointed out how Bexar County could save more than $9 million a year with a similar approach.
“It has taken the legislature a very long time to catch up with the public opinion of Texans on this,” Fazio says. “What your seeing is some local jurisdictions realizing that and reforming what they can now, on their own.”
Fazio says MPP is organizing people to testify before lawmakers on Monday about the human toll of the state’s current, harsh marijuana laws. Even as lawmakers in more than half of these United States have legalized cannabis in some form, in Texas a pot charge can still derail your life — significant jail time and a criminal charge that can threaten your job or even student financial aid. And the patchwork approach currently taking shape can lead to some very unequal consequences for the very same offense. Consider that in recent years, some Texas cops have even decided to stick their hands inside of peopleon the side of the road because they thought they smelled something skunky.
The thing is, HB 81 is actually one of the milder marijuana reforms proposed this session. It alone doesn’t address the number of other cannabis-related issues advocates desperately want the legislature to tackle — like a “medical marijuana” law that’s practically useless, or the fact that, because of the brain-twisting way Texas charges people caught with edibles, getting caught with too many pot brownies could carry a potential life sentence.
Marijuana laws here are still quite harsh, comparatively speaking. But if advocates are right and they manage to push HB 81 through this session, that would be a big sign that the Lone Star State’s finally starting to mellow on the issue.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — State lawmakers will hear public testimony Monday on House Bill 81, which would reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession.
“House Bill 81 would eliminate the arrest, the jail time, and most importantly, the criminal record currently associated with small amounts of marijuana,” explained Heather Fazio, the Texas political director for theMarijuana Policy Project. “The bill will recalibrate penalties for low-level possession, making it a simple ticket, rather than jail time and a criminal record.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2015, there were more than 60,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Texas, which made up more than 13 percent of all arrests in the state that year. It’s estimated those arrests and the subsequent prosecution cost taxpayers $1.5 billion.
Supporters of HB 81 argue that money could be better spent elsewhere.
“People want to feel safe in their communities and when we’re prosecuting and arresting people for simple marijuana possession, we’re not giving justice to violent crimes where victims deserve justice,” said Fazio. “It is absolutely outrageous when burglary clearance rates are low, and violent and property crime is going unsolved.”
What makes matters worse, supporters say, is that a majority of low-level possession charges are dismissed.
“When we’re seeing upwards of 50 percent of cases for marijuana possession in Travis County being dismissed, their resources are being thrown out the window and their time is being wasted. We have better things to do with our time,” added Fazio.
However, some people in law enforcement don’t see it that way.
“We still think that’s an accountability of prosecutors to their voters,” said Jackson County Sheriff A.J. “Andy” Louderback, who serves as the legislative director for theSheriffs’ Association of Texas.
The association is opposed to HB 81 and any form of legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, even in small amounts. “Generally, as a social cost of the use of the drug, we believe strong that it’s always been a gateway drug.”
Representatives of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy tell KXAN supporters of HB 81 include a retired Texas judge and a former Houston police lieutenant, who will testify Monday in favor of the bill.
“They know that criminal justice resources are scarce, and they can be used in a much better way,” Fazio said.
“Prosecutors are overburdened with marijuana possession cases, rather than giving cases like domestic violence, for example, the attention they deserve. Our law enforcement officers are distracted when they’re arresting thousands of people every year for the simple possession of this plant, that the majority of Americans and Texans would prefer to see decriminalized, Fazio said.
Two years ago, Texas lawmakers passed a law legalizing the use of low THC cannabis oil for epilepsy patients. The Texas Department of Public Safety is going to oversee the program when it begins next fall.
In December, Texas Senator Jose Menendez filed Senate Bill 269 to expand medical marijuana use for patients with debilitating and chronic medical conditions.
“I filed this bill because doctors, not politicians, should determine the best treatment for severely ill Texans,” Menendez said. “This is a legitimate medicine that can help a variety of sick people from a grandmother suffering from cancer to a veteran coping with PTSD.”
Authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, House Bill 81 would make the possession of 1-2 ounces of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor. In addition, the possession of a small amount of marijuana would result in a civil penalty not exceeding $250. Up to 4 ounces of marijuana would result in a Class A misdemeanor, while any more than that would still result in a felony.
The weed-friendly bill comes on the heals of a policy recently implemented by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, which allows people caught with up to 4 ounces of pot to take a four-hour drug-education class instead of going to jail.
When Ogg’s plan was announced, Moody said he believed it would give this bill momentum.
“What the DA in Harris County is doing is exercising her discretion as allowed under the law,” Moody said in a Feb. 16 story on Chron.com. “I support that program. It’s smart in cases of this type. Her predecessor had a similar policy issue. This is not a partisan issue.”
However, not ever politician in Austin was as excited about the Houston plan as Moody, with notable push back from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
“The lieutenant governor has said repeatedly regarding sanctuary cities that he does not believe that law enforcement has the discretion to choose what laws to enforce and what laws to ignore,” Patrick press secretary Alejandro Garcia told Chron.com in February. “That is his position regarding DA Ogg’s proposal.”
In the Senate, where Patrick presides, companion bill SB 170 was referred to the Criminal Justice Committee on Jan. 25.
Monday, March 13: Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to Consider HB 81
House Bill 81, authored by Chairman Joe Moody (D) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R) , would eliminate the arrest, jail time, and criminal record associated with low-level marijuana possession. The bill will be considered by the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday, March 13th.
Call to Action!
1) To show your support for the bill, come to the Texas State Capitol and sign up in support of HB 81. You can register your support starting at 8 a.m. and until the conclusion our hearing. (Instructions and a video demo.)
2)Provide the committee a testimonial if you have personal or professional experience. Testimony can be provided several ways: written and submitted via email to the committee clerk ([email protected]), written/printed (12 copies) and submitted in person on the day of the hearing, or verbally to the committee (2 minutes).
When visiting the Capitol, please always dress professionally.
We will have a large volume of witnesses, so unless you have been arrested or convicted for a small amount of cannabis, or you are someone with particular expertise, it is best to simply register your support. If you plan to stay and testify in person, please let us know ([email protected]) so we can coordinate testimony, and please bring 12 copies of your printed testimony to submit to the committee clerk.
The Texas legislative session is in full swing, and a dozen marijuana policy-related bills have been introduced for consideration. Our priorities in Texas include instituting a civil penalty (simple ticket) for low-level marijuana possession and making the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive for patients with debilitating medical conditions. Each of these proposals have been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate!
Then, check out this snapshot review of our priority legislation:
House Bill 81, Chairman Joe Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac – Reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession: no arrest, no jail time, no criminal record (policy overview)
Status: Referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee
Companion: Senate Bill 170, Sen. José Rodríguez. (Status: Referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee)
Senate Bill 269, Sen. José Menéndez – Make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive: add qualifying conditions, lift cap on THC, make workable by fixing flawed “prescription” language (policy overview)
Status: Referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee
Companion: House Bill 2107, Rep. Eddie Lucio III and Rep. Jason Isaac. (Status: Filed)
Find a full Texas marijuana policy review here (all 12 bills), and share this email with any friends or family members who might be interested in supporting reform in Texas.
Texas has the potential to rival Colorado in marijuana sales, but the state seems intent on keeping the medical marijuana program from becoming a reality. (Photo by Shutterstock)
The Texas Compassionate Use Act was signed into law on June 1, 2015, by Governor Greg Abbott. However, it appears the state might not implement the medical marijuana program it passed and could walk away from millions in potential tax revenues.
One of the major obstacles to establishing the program in Texas is that the state law requires doctors to write a prescription for the medical marijuana. Since marijuana is still federally illegal and a controlled substance, doctors can’t legally write a prescription for it. In addition, a prescription must be filled by a pharmacy, not a dispensary. Doctors are protected if they recommend medical marijuana, not prescribe it. The law would have to be amended and in this current climate they may not be able to get that done. “We’re concerned it’s not ever get off the ground, if we’re not able to change that language in the law,” said Heather Fazio of Texans for Responsible Marijuana.
Another problem with the program is the severely limited patient population. Intractable epilepsy is the only approved disease in the Texas program, leaving cancer patients, pain sufferers and veterans with post traumatic stress disorder unable to legally get the medicine. A bill has been introduced in both the Texas House and Senate to expand the patient population. Greenwave Advisors Matt Karnes said that if Texas included the typical qualifying conditions that other states have designated – there would be a patient population of 1.9 million.
Karnes said, assuming commercial availability by 2019 with an expanded set of patients, medical marijuana sales in Texas could reach $600 million by 2021. That’s roughly half of Colorado’s market, where the state is currently reaping $200 million on total recreational and medicinal marijuana sales of $1.3 billion. However, Karnes noted that if Texas went so far as to legalize recreational marijuana, it would rival Colorado. “A recreational market, assuming implementation in 2019 would reach approximately $1.2 billion and hit approximately $1.7 billion in 2021,” said Karnes. He based his calculations on what has been observed in existing legal markets. If Texas were able to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana by 2019, Karnes believes the market would total $1.4 billion and by 2021 $2.3 billion.
The Texas law only legalizes a low-THC cannabis with the cannabidiol compound equaling 10%, with the THC portion no higher that 0.5%. The state has until September 2017 to issue at least three licenses. There has been bipartisan support to expand the list of approved diseases, but the governor is very much against any type of legalized marijuana. Seventy-five percent of Texans favor marijuana law reform, according to a 2015 Texas Lyceum poll. Last week a group of military veterans delivered a petition signed by 1,400 vets requesting an in-person meeting to advocate for a more inclusive program.
Separately, the state is grappling with a contradiction in its approaches to marijuana. District Attorney Kim Ogg of Harris County, which includes Houston, said that as of March 1, she would no longer arrest or prosecute most marijuana cases. Instead people found in possession of marijuana will be diverted to a four-hour class. “We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” she said. “We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation.”
The state’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick criticized the move, while at the same time a new bill was introduced that would decrease penalties for possession of an ounce of marijuana resulting in a ticket not to exceed $250. “We definitely face a challenge with the governor,” said Fazio. “Even though he signed the bill, he has still said he was still convinced that we shouldn’t open up the door to broader use of marijuana even medicinally.” Fazio does think that if the conservative politicians are willing to pass legislation expanding medical marijuana, she doesn’t think Abbott will stand in the way.