Cannabis decriminalization bill takes another step forward in the Texas Legislature

Apr 1, 2019

Cannabis decriminalization efforts in the Lone Star State have cleared another legislative hurdle, passing with minor amendments from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a bipartisan vote of five for the bill, and just two voting against it.

Texas State Rep. Joe Moody’s HB 63 would reduce criminal penalties for low-levels of marijuana possession, allowing a person carrying cannabis to receive two civil penalties before facing misdemeanor charges.

Director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, Heather Frazio, is cautiously confident about HB 63’s political chances.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Frazio reported. “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.”

It marks the third time that a decriminalization bill written by Moody has cleared the House committee level, but HB 63 is notedly impressive for its record passage time out of committee. One of Moody’s past decriminalization bills took until April 3 to even be scheduled for a House floor vote.

Unfortunately, the bill never saw the House floor for a vote due to lobbying efforts and a rather crafty procedural maneuver by the conservative Texas Freedom Caucus.

Current cannabis criminal laws in Texas

In 2017, Texas reportedly made more than 64,000 arrests for marijuana possession. In the Lone Star State, a person carrying up to two ounces or less of cannabis can be found guilty of a misdemeanor that carries a penalty fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail.

HB 63 would reduce the penalty for possession to a fine of $250. The fine would apply to an individual’s first two offenses, with the third carrying a possible Class C Misdemeanor classification, which carries a hefty fine, but no jail time for the accused.

[New Jersey’s cannabis legalization vote falls apart at the eleventh hour]

If HB 63 is passed, an individual with two or even three charges of marijuana possession may be eligible for an automatic deferral, allowing the individual to avoid having a permanent criminal record. If the bill is passed by both the House and the Senate, Texans would no longer face jail time, nor blemishes on their permanent criminal record, for carrying cannabis.

What are the odds of HB 63 passing?

While HB 63 may have a shot at surviving the Texas House committee hearing process, pot politicos feel that it may be a long shot for the bill to survive its review process in the Senate.

State Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick keeps a tight reign over the Senate’s legislative agenda, which he controls as the legislative body’s president.

[Minnesota introduces legislation to legalize recreational marijuana]

In a statement to the Texas Tribute, Patrick said that he is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”

To try and give HB 63 more of a fighting chance, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy have launched a letter drive targeted towards Patrick, along with a petition that’s gained nearly 3,000 signatures.

Perhaps Patrick will reconsider his position, considering that it is at odds with public opinion and even the official position of his own political party. Either way, HB 63 is poised for an interesting ride in its path to possible legalization.

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