Texas lawmakers will push to eliminate the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana crimes in the 2017 legislative session.
According to a report from the Texas Tribune, legislative forces walked up to the steps of the State Capitol on Monday to submit a number of cannabis-related bills, one of which aims to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana all across the Lone Star state. The goal of the measure, according to Dem. State Rep. Joe Moody, the lawmaker responsible for drafting the bill, is to simply make this offense a civil infraction, punishable with a $250 fine—no jail time, no criminal record.
While not a perfect plan, the scope of House Bill 81 would be a relatively solid reform for Texas, especially considering the current charge for this offense is a criminal misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to a 180 days in the slammer and a $2000 fine.
If the brass tacks of this bill sound all too familiar, it is because Moody introduced a similar proposal (House Bill 507) back in 2015. But while that particular measure seemed to have a fighting chance during its initial hearing in front of a key legislative committee, lawmakers somehow managed to sandbag the issue until it was too late in the legislative session to take the bill to the next level. And since the Texas Legislature runs on a biennial system, all marijuana-related matters have been forced to wait until 2017 for further discussion.
Although it is still too early to tell just how receptive legislative forces will be to the concept of decriminalization, there is a lot of support for a proposal of this kind in the progressive crevasse of the average citizen. In fact, some of the latest polls to come out of Texas show only 20 percent of the state’s residents believe people should still be thrown in jail for holding a little weed.
In 2015, it was revealed that 97 percent of all marijuana-related convictions in Texas were for minor possession—an offense that, regardless if the offender ends up going to jail, comes with reverberations that can potentially cripple the future well being of otherwise law-biding citizens.
“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” State Representative Jason Isaac, a supporter of decriminalization, told the Tribune. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”
Interestingly, Representative Isaac did not come out in support for Moody’s decriminalization bill back in 2015. But he now believes the time is right to get serious about this type of reform. Of course, this could bode well for the issue if other naysayers of decriminalization have changed their minds on the issue and are eager to throw their support behind House Bill 81 in the upcoming session.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott said previously that he didn’t see decriminalization happening in the 2015 legislative session, but his administration has yet to comment on whether the governor would support this modest reform if it makes it to his desk at some point next year.