All posts by Heather Fazio

Texas House Hearing on Reducing Marijuana Penalties

 

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.

Will Texas Finally Decriminalize Small-Time Pot Possession This Year?

Posted By on Fri, Mar 10, 2017 at 4:00 pm
Originally published here by the San Antonio Current.

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.

Low-level marijuana possession penalties could be reduced with new bill

Published:

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.

Courtesy: Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy
Courtesy: Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy

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.

A recent poll shows that 83 percent of Texans support medical marijuana, according to the University of Texas and Texas Tribune. The poll also found that 53 percent of Texans support legalization of marijuana for any purpose.

“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.”

Right now, 28 states have legalized medical cannabis.

A bill to decriminalize marijuana is getting a hearing in the Texas house

Texas Pot smokers may be one step closer to celebrating in the streets.

A bill seeking to decriminalize the use and possession of small quantities of marijuana has been scheduled for a hearing at the Texas State Capitol.

House Bill 81, which aims to categorize low-level marijuana possession as a misdemeanor, will be will be argued in front of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 13th.

The committee will hear witness testimony from experts, as well as people who have been convicted or arrested for marijuana-related offenses, according to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

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.

Texas House Bill 81 has been scheduled for a hearing!

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.

Unable to travel to Austin? You can still help! Contact your legislators in support of sensible marijuana policy. Also, follow this Facebook event for live updates and a link to the live stream.

Texas marijuana policy reforms need your help

Ask your state legislators to stop jailing and criminalizing cannabis users and to make Texas’ medical marijuana program workable and inclusive!

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!
Please write your lawmakers in support of these long-overdue reforms: a simple ticket for simple possession and a truly compassionate medical cannabis program.
Then, check out this snapshot review of our priority legislation:
Civil Penalties:
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)
Medical Cannabis:
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 Could Lose Millions Of Tax Dollars If It Stalls Medical Marijuana

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.

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Where do Texas’ marijuana policy-related bills currently stand?

Civil Penalties

House Bill 81 – 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
Authors: Chairman Joe Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac

Senate Bill 170 – Reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession: no arrest, no jail time, no criminal record (HB 81 companion)
Status: Referred to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee
Authors: Sen. José Rodríguez

Medical Cannabis

House Bill 2107 – Make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive: add qualifying conditions, lift cap on THC, make workable by fixing flawed “prescription” language (policy overview)
Status: Filed
Authors: Rep. Eddie Lucio III

 Senate Bill 269 – Make the Compassionate Use Program more inclusive: add qualifying conditions, lift cap on THC, make workable by fixing flawed “prescription” language (HB 2107 companion)
Status: Referred to the Senate Health & Human Services Committee

House Bill 780 – Zoning regarding Texas Compassionate Use Program
Status: Referred to Urban Affairs

  • Prevents localities from adopting zoning ordinances regarding cultivating, producing, dispensing, or possessing high CBD / low THC cannabis that would have the same effects as prohibiting it in the area.

Other Penalty Reduction Bills and
Affirmative Defense

House Bill 82 and House Bill 680Reclassify low-level marijuana possession to a criminal class C misdemeanor
Status: Referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

  • These bills will eliminate jail time for small amounts of marijuana, but maintain possibility of arrest and criminal record (and life-long collateral consequences) upon conviction.

House Bill 58Allow for the establishment of county-level first-time offender diversion programs.
Status: Referred to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

  • This is something that can and is being done via prosecutorial discretion.

House Bill 2200Affirmative defense to prosecution
Status: Filed

  • This bill has been introduced for many sessions, but hasn’t moved out of committee.
  • Provides protection from conviction for patients after arrest and at the judge’s discretion. Provides no safe/legal access.

Joint Resolutions (Constitutional Amendments)

This type of legislation requires approval from a super majority of the legislature and places the specified policy on Texas’ 2018 ballot for a vote. Each of the following bills provides vague language and lacks appropriate deadlines, creating opportunity for significant delays in implementation.

Senate Joint Resolution 17 and House Joint Resolution 46 – Instruct the legislature to establish legal retail market for adult use. (SJR 17: Referred to Senate Criminal Justice Committee.)

Senate Joint Resolution 18 – Instruct the legislature to establish a comprehensive medical cannabis program. (SJR 18: Referred to Senate Health & Humans Services.)

Marijuana Lobby Grows As Legalization Spreads Throughout Country

Cannabis has already quasi-legal long enough in enough states for the industry to spawn its own specialized lobbyists.

As the cannabis legalization movement continues to score victories across the country, the number of lobbyists for the industry continues to grow.

They will descend May 16 and 17 on Washington to speak with members of Congress about changing federal laws on marijuana. That, of course, includes legalization at the federal level, but also banking rules that keep banks for providing services to cannabis businesses.

The event, called the Cannabis Industry Lobby Days, is sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Association. Founded in 2010, the association refers to itself as the only national association representing cannabis businesses at the federal level.

“With victories in eight states across the country during the 2016 presidential election, as well as the challenges ahead of us as we see a new administration come into the White House, fixing federal policies is more critical than ever,” according to the association website.

The growth of the association tells a story of its own. At the beginning of 2013, the association had 118 members. Now, that number totals more than 800.

Related: How Do We Measure the Statistical Significance of Legal Cannabis?

Former government regulators

The NCIA is just one sign of the growth of the industry. Many other lobbyists have formed their own consulting businesses after leaving government agencies where they once oversaw regulation of the marijuana industry. Much like other industries, from defense to financial services, former regulators now try to influence public policy.

According to The Hill, which focuses on covering politics and lobbyists in the nation’s capital, former government officials have set up consulting firms to advise both private businesses and local governments on cannabis regulations. Also, a former marijuana regulator in Colorado now heads the state’s Cannabis Chamber of Commerce.

“That’s how America works. You work for the government, then you become a lobbyist,” Ian Eisenberg, who runs the Uncle Ike’s dispensary in Seattle, told The Hill.

Related: Congressional Cannabis Caucus Unites to Protect Marijuana Industry

Lone Star State Lobby

Perhaps no better sign for the continued acceptance of marijuana and the focus of lobbying groups is bigger than Texas, a long-time “red state” that has not legalized medical marijuana, much less recreational marijuana.

Marijuana lobbyists in Texas set aside Feb. 22 to come to the state capital in Austin to support legalized medical marijuana. Much of group that showed up were veterans seeking the right to use legal cannabis for the treatment of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

They are part of an organization called Operation Trapped, which advocates marijuana as an alternative to prescription drugs.

The group delivered a letter signed by 1,400 veterans asking Gov. Greg Abbott to support legalized medical marijuana. Bills already have been filed in both houses of the Texas Legislature seeking approval of medical marijuana, which already is legal in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

The growing support and lobby for legal marijuana in Texas seems to have worked. A new pollfrom the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune shows that 83 percent of Texans support legalized marijuana for some use, while 53 percent support it for recreational use.

Just two years ago, 34 percent of Texans opposed marijuana for anything but medical use, while 24 percent opposed legalizing it for any reason.