Texas State Representative Joe Moody’s House Bill 63 made it out of the House’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Monday on the power of a 5-2 vote in its favor. With the proposed legislation’s movement, it’s beginning to look more likely that Texas will see jail time taken off the table for those caught with small amounts of cannabis on their person.
The bill was introduced by Moody back in November, on the very first day it was possible to file for this year’s legislative session. If passed, it would change the punishment for an individual’s first offense of small scale possession of marijuana (here defined as less than an ounce) from up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to a $250 — still a weighty penalty, but nothing compared to the current law. A third possession offense would raise the crime to a Class C misdemeanor subject to a fine not exceeding $500. The bill would not affect current laws against driving while high.
“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Heather Fazio told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll published last year indicated that Fazio is right about the population of Texas’ thoughts on cannabis prohibition. The survey found that 53 percent of voters would legalize the possession of some amount of cannabis, and that another 31 percent are in favor of medical marijuana programs. Only 16 percent thought marijuana should be illegal for any usage.
But going further afield from decriminalization, legalization may still be a long time coming in the notoriously anti-weed state. There are still some powerful state politicians with virulently anti-cannabis viewpoints, and the state’s small medical marijuana program is strictly limited — medical products are limited to .5 percent THC, for example.
There have been some developments in the fight for regulation, however. Governor Greg Abbott’s shifting stance on the drug has been one cause for renewed hope. In October during a debate with his then-Democrat challenger Lupe Valdez, Abbott announced that he was open to reducing punishments for low level marijuana possession. “One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana,” said Abbott.
At HB 63’s committee hearing earlier this month, multiple prominent Texan officials testified in favor of decriminalization. Nueces County district attorney Mark Gonzalez shared his office’s efforts to make sure less low-level offenders wind up in prison. “We have to decide enough is enough and to be smart on crime,” Gonzalez said. “The time is now.” Those attending the hearing also heard the words of Senior District Judge John Delaney, whose testimony focused on the cost to the state incurred by harsh cannabis laws.