Texas decriminalization bill gets gutted, but penalties for possession remain lowered

Apr 26, 2019

The Lone Star State has amended and rewritten legislation that would have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana to ensure its passage into law.

As originally written, House Bill 63 would have removed current state-enforced penalties for being arrested and charged with possession of marijuana with a $250 fine. On April 24, State Representative Joe Moody filed an amended version of the bill, the night before the bill was due to be heard by the state House of Representatives.

The newly amended version of the bill would still lessen the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana but doesn’t remove those penalties altogether. While Texans may face reduced penalties and avoid a criminal record, there may still be consequences for being convicted of possession.

Moody hoped to overcome potential opposition to the bill by amending the language to ensure that marijuana possession was still a crime, but one with less harsh penalties.

[New Mexico, the newest state to decriminalize cannabis possession]

“I certainly think there is significant bipartisan support for [decriminalization],” Moody told Dallas News. “There are others in this building who think we can get to the same conclusion in a different way.”

Moody may have feared that if the bill had been passed out of the House of Representatives as previously written, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick⸺a vocal opponent of revising current state policies pertaining to marijuana⸺might use his influence as leader of the state Senate to quash HB 63 in the second house.

“There’s an entire [legislative] body across the hall,” Moody said, referring to the state Senate. “And there’s only one signature that matters.

Gov. Greg Abbott has supported lessening criminal penalties for possession; however, he has not taken a strong stance on decriminalization efforts.

What do the amendments mean for decriminalization in Texas?

Certain advocates are less than thrilled about this watered-down version of HB 63, but they do recognize that it is a legislative step in the right direction.

Heather Fazio, Director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Dallas News that while this recent rewrite isn’t “ideal”, the bill still aims to help lower the criminal aspects of possession.

“This revised version of Rep. Moody’s bill still meets every objective that we have. No arrest, no jail time, and there’s an opportunity for people to avoid a criminal record,” Fazio said.

[Cannabis decriminalization bill takes another step forward in the Texas Legislature]

Currently, Texans caught with an ounce or less of cannabis can be placed in jail for nearly half of a year and face up to $2,000 in fines. Moody’s amended bill lessens cannabis possession punishments to a Class C misdemeanor, which is punishable by a fine of up to $500 and no jail time.

HB 63, as amended, would make it easier to expunge from a person’s record Class C misdemeanors related to cannabis convictions and would prohibit police from arresting anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana.

Decriminalization would have a major impact on the criminal justice system in the Lone Star State. In 2017 alone, more than 60,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession, making up more than half of the drug-possession arrests in the state according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

HB 63 is scheduled to be heard on Thursday, April 25. HB 63 needs exactly 76 votes to pass into the State Senate, the second house, for further ratification and debate. The current legislative session will end on May 27, so Texans, keep an eye out for a possible reduction in possession penalties.

 

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