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If This Bill Passes, Possessing Pot in Texas Will Be Treated Less Harshly Than Distributing Straws in San Francisco

A new bill in the Texas legislature would repeal criminal penalties for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

Alana290/Dreamstime.comAlana290/Dreamstime.comA new bill in the Texas legislature would decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of cannabis.

Rep. Joe Moody (D–El Paso) today introduced HB 63. If it becomes law, possessing up to an ounce of marijuana would be a civil infraction, punishable by a maximum $250 fine. Currently, possession of any marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor and can earn you up to $2,000 in penalties and six months in jail.

Some 41,000 people were convicted of marijuana possession in Texas between August 2017 and August 2018, according to the state Department of Public Safety.

Moody's bill would also bar police officers from arresting someone solely for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.

"Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I've filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There's been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session," says Moody in a press release. "I'm optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas."

Moody's bill is pretty limited compared to other drug reform efforts around the country. Marijuana would still be prohibited, and those who rack up more than three civil infractions would be liable for criminal charges on a fourth offense.

Still, that's more lenient than San Francisco's treatment of repeat violators of its plastic straw ban. And it's far superior to the status quo, says Heather Fazio, director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy.

"Penalties are unreasonably harsh, even for a tiny amount of marijuana," Fazio tells Reason, noting that in addition to the criminal sanctions there are a host of collateral consequences that come with drug offenses. "Hindered access to education, or housing, drivers' licenses' suspension for six months, a suspension of your right to carry, your right to self-defense for seven years."

There are some signs that reform is starting to win friends across the political spectrum. Earlier this summer, the Republican Party of Texas included a call for marijuana decriminalization in its platform. And in an October debate, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, said that he would be open to legislation that made simple possession a Class C misdemeanor, meaning it would remain a criminal offense but not come with the possibility of jail time.

"One thing I don't want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of small amounts of marijuana," Abbott said during that debate. Last week he was re-elected by a large margin.

A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll in June found 69 percent of registered Texas voters support reduced penalties for marijuana, and 53 percent support legalization. A full 62 percent of Republicans supported reduced penalties, as did 79 percent of Democrats.

Past efforts for marijuana reform in the Texas Legislature have sputtered out. In the 2017 legislative session, two reform bills with bipartisan support managed to be get voted out of committee—including a decriminalization measure and a medical marijuana bill—but conservatives blocked both from going to the full floor for a vote.

Fazio says she's optimistic about the prospects for reform this year.

"We've got more momentum, especially with the governor now stating his willingness to work with lawmakers on reducing penalties," she says. "I think 2019 will be the year we see this meaningful reform made in Texas, and it's so desperately needed."

Photo Credit: Alana290/Dreamstime.com

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Moody's bill would also bar police officers from arresting someone solely for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana.

    They'll have to settle for one of the other numerous options.

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  • Rebel Scum||

    A small step in the right direction.

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  • loveconstitution1789||

    Watch the Lefties swing around on drug legalization to control people.

    Lefties were against drug legalization in the past and still are unless its controlled by the state.

    Lefties used to be against paper bags for stores and pushed to switch to plastic bags. Now an effective ban on plastic bags is the trend.

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    "In the 2017 legislative session, two reform bills with bipartisan support managed to be get voted out of committee—including a decriminalization measure and a medical marijuana bill—but conservatives blocked both from going to the full floor for a vote."

    Yep, it's always the Lefties. No trouble from anybody but the Lefties.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    There is plenty of bad things with everyone.

    The media constantly points out the bad stuff with non-Lefties.

    We need more attention on Lefties since they actually want to send us all to gulags, silence us, or put us against walls and shoot us.

  • Thomas O.||

    Just to clarify... conservatives didn't specifically target the two MJ reform bills that made it out of committee. That Freedom Caucus was bogging down regular House business to the effect that hundreds of bills got stalled and ultimately died from missing a vote-scheduling deadline... and those two bills were among the casualties.

    As I've mentioned before, a few months every two years is no way to run things in the second-biggest state in the Union.

  • bevis the lumberjack||

    "As I've mentioned before, a few months every two years is no way to run things in the second-biggest state in the Union."

    I dunno. I've lived in Texas since Nixon was president and it's kinda nice to have those chuckleheads at their real jobs 90% of the time. Less time for them to screw things up.

  • Social Darwinist||

    I can't wait for Texas to legalize. I've got the plows ready to till up the back 40.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Many Georgia political positions are part-time.

    It keeps the state good intentions down as much as possible.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Native Texan here. For all of our ethos of independent self reliance, the state government has always exerted a muscular influence that is at odds with the ideals of individual liberty one might expect to find here. I don't know why that is exactly, but I prefer to give the legislature as little time as possible for "the good idea fairy" to whisper in their ear.

  • CDRSchafer||

    I've lived in Texas for a decade now after growing up in Pennsylvania then living in Virginia, Missouri and Maryland. The only thing I found oppressive about those three were the taxes and the idiotic liquor laws in Pennsylvania and Maryland. They are changing those. Other than that, Texas has much higher speed limits than all three which I appreciate.

  • Rock Lobster||

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Texas is oppressive, especially compared to progressive utopias like New York or Illinois. I am saying that Texas isn't as libertarian as one might expect, the point being that keeping the legislature in session full time is unlikely to move things in a more libertarian direction.

    Personally, I love Texas. I've lived here my entire life, and I will probably die here. But there is an unhealthy pro-government streak that must be acknowledged and hopefully kept at bay. The only way for people to be independent and self reliant is for them to be, well... independent and self reliant.

  • vek||

    A lot of it IMO seems to come down to the staying out of your checkbook versus staying out of your bedroom stereotype.

    I haven't been to Texas in a long time, but it IS a thing with many conservative leaning people for some daft reason. The extreme bible thumper portion of the right is losing influence, which is why I have long expected the Republican party to get better on these types of things... And it does seem to be happening. The place where they're screwing it up is always dragging their feet, even when polling shows stuff is popular, as opposed to taking the lead and making it a pro active thing.

    I said right after Trump won that if he was smart he would PUSH to decriminalize weed nationally... Imagine how much that would explode heads on the left. Yet he clearly doesn't care, and neither do most Americans... They think it's good. Even the sub set of so-cons would just suck it up and still vote R, because they still fit 1000x better on everything else.

    There's nothing much to be lost, and everything to be gained by the Rs.

  • DesigNate||

    Hopefully he'll get support from that Christian Representative that tried to get it legalized in the 85th session.

  • Dillinger||

    God Bless Texas.

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  • Eric H.||

    It's all about control. The dems want to control straw usage, the GOP a mild drug in plant form that makes people happy and sleep better.

    They both are stuck on the "greater good" and controlling "morality".

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    What's the consequence for having more than 1 oz of pot in Texas, versus having more than 1 oz of straws in San Francisco though?

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Death Penalty for both.

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    So, you think Texas should be crazier than 'Frisco?

  • Social Darwinist||

    The crazy thing is that straws are a legal product that are illegal to distribute in SF but pot is illegal to produce, distribute, and sell and buy but if you have some in TX well that's OK as long as it's not too much. I think the point was not TX being crazier than SF, no way they (SF) can have that trophy, but the hypocrisy in the treatment of products, one legal and one illegal. Hopefully with more states passing laws to legalize pot's use or lowering the criminal status for possession, we won't be far from a national referendum to have the feds making pot legal at a federal level.

  • Sevo||

    Wife and I had lunch last week in a place popular with the local pols, and therefore with some cops (they follow each other around).
    Wife had a cocktail before ordering and it came with a plastic straw. I told the waiter I wouldn't turn them in; his amusement said they were not worried. Other places are offering only paper.
    Like prohibition, it's probably gonna be 'knock, knock...Joe sent me'.

  • Echospinner||

    "Dave?"

    "Dave's not here"

  • Wizard4169||

    Twenty-first century speakeasies, where the booze is legal but the straws aren't. Maybe I should get into the straw-legging business.

  • vek||

    I've still been getting plenty of regular straws in The Peoples Republic Of Seattle!

  • TxJack 112||

    This law would have lesser penalties than the straw ban in California because people in California are completely insane.

  • Lester224||

    I'd rather be prosecuted for straws in San Fran than for pot in Texas, at least at the present time. Jail time in San Fran for the straws is much less likely.

  • Rock Lobster||

    I think pot should be decriminalized. On the other hand, hanging horse thieves still has a certain appeal. Hopefully we Texans can strike a balance here.

  • Liberty Lover||

    Quote :If This Bill Passes, Possessing Pot in Texas Will Be Treated Less Harshly Than Distributing Straws in San Francisco"

    Makes perfect sense. Stoners only hurt themselves, plastic straw distributers are destroying the world! (sarc)

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