On Monday, Texas State Representative Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso, proposed a new law downgrading possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a $100 civil fine. Possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is currently a criminal offense in the Lone Star State, leading to arrest, up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine, and a lifelong criminal record.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” said Rep. Moody. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
Some might be shocked to read of marijuana reform happening in such a conservative state, but for a few years now Texas has been a hotbed of marijuana activism. NORML chapters in Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Waco have been raising awareness of the need for reform in Texas for over a decade now. At DFW NORML’s Texas Regional Marijuana Conference, octogenarian Ann Lee, mother of California Prop 19 legalization petitioner Richard Lee, announced the formation of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition in Texas.
“There is broad support for reducing marijuana possession penalties, and it spans the political spectrum,” said Mrs. Lee at the announcement of Rep. Moody’s bill. “The prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility and personal freedom. There is nothing conservative about it.”
Mrs. Lee was joined by retired Texas district court judge John Delaney, a speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Giving a ticket for small amounts of marijuana makes sense,” Delaney said. “The fine can be paid by mail, so police, prosecutors and our courts will be able to use their limited resources for more important matters.”
The grassroots efforts of Texas activists have been greatly aided by some politicians, like former El Paso City Councilman Beto O’Rourke, who in 2009 led the council in a unanimous vote to begin an “open and honest debate” on the War on Drugs. In 2012, O’Rourke went on to defeat an eight-term congressman who attacked him for his pro-marijuana legalization stance. He currently serves in the US House of Representatives, having won re-election in 2014 with two-thirds of the vote.
It’s no surprise that State Rep. Moody, like US Rep. O’Rourke, would offer his voice from El Paso, Texas in support of statewide decriminalization. El Paso sits across the border from Juárez, Mexico, where some of the most brutal and constant violence of the Mexican Drug War takes place. Homicides, driven by the war between Sinaloa and Juárez drug cartels, peaked at over 3,500 in 2010, but have steadily declined to less than 500 homicides in 2013.
It’s also not surprising that Texans would be ready to accept marijuana decriminalization. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, there were over 72,000 arrests for marijuana in Texas in 2013, even though in 2007, the state legislature allowed local governments to use summons for marijuana offenses rather than arrests. An astounding 97 percent of those 72,000-plus arrests were for mere possession of marijuana only. Meanwhile, 90 percent of all burglaries and 88 percent of all car thefts in Texas went unsolved in 2013. A recent poll by Marijuana Policy Project showed that 61% of Texans would support a decriminalization bill similar to what Rep. Moody is proposing.