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Marijuana Legalization—in Texas? Decrim Success Says, Eventually

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A strange thing is happening in Texas.

Cities’ experiments with marijuana decriminalization are going forward. A push to decriminalize cannabis on the state level also received initial approval, with support from Republicans—and without massive demonstrations from police, who came out in droves to oppose a similar effort last year.

Marijuana reform is winning—and winning without much drama.

Now, there are a dozen bills in the Texas state house dealing with marijuana reform, including increased access to medical cannabis. If decriminalization is having such a warm welcome, how much farther behind is a workable medical marijuana law? And—dare we even utter the words—legal cannabis in the state of Texas?

It was unthinkable not long ago, and it’s still a long shot. In 2015, 61,000 people in Texas were arrested for marijuana possession, which is punishable by a $2,000 fine and six months in jail. So far, only Houston, the state’s largest city with 4.5 million people, has successfully decriminalized possession. There, thanks to District Attorney Kim Ogg, possession of four ounces or less is now punishable by a $150 ticket.

Now, as the Dallas Observer writes, the Dallas City Council will revisit a proposal, first seen last year, to do the same. Meanwhile, a separate state proposal authored by El Paso’s Joe Moody to decriminalize appears likely to be called for a vote on the floor of the Texas state legislature—something that didn’t happen when statewide decriminalization was first debated two years ago.

Instead, some cops are coming to Austin to speak out in favor of marijuana reform.

After 35 years on the street, I’m just tired of seeing kids’ lives defined by marijuana arrests,” said Nick Novello, a longtime Dallas cop who spoke with the Dallas Observer. “Our culture will not endure much more of what we’re doing to it.”

Moody’s proposal would still need to clear the state Senate and then receive the signature of Gov. Greg Abbott to become law. But as NORML observed, following Houston’s decriminalization, no members of the powerful Sheriff’s Association arrived in the state capitol to oppose the statewide decrim bill. And as the Texas Observer reported, Moody also threw law-and-order types a bone by allowing someone caught for marijuana possession a fourth time to be arrested and charged with a crime.

It all makes perfect sense. Pursuing small-time marijuana cases cost Houston alone a whopping $26 million a year, as NORML wrote. Still, “[i]t is a fairly new concept in Texas not to criminalize conduct,” Moody told the Observer. And there are plenty of cops with clout who have no interest in seeing marijuana laws relaxed.

These would include Harold Eavenson, the sheriff of Rockwall County in suburban Dallas. Eavenson is president of the National Sheriff’s Association and was the cop whose complaint about asset-forfeiture reform famously earned a suggestion from President Donald Trump that he’d ruin a local reform-minded lawmaker’s career.

And of the bills in the Texas legislature, only the decriminalization bill is seen as having any chance of becoming law. But you can’t deny the trend.

There’s more momentum for cannabis reform in Texas than ever before.

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