Texas Is Slowly but Surely Inching Toward Decriminalizing Weed

Photo: Eric Gay (AP Photo)

It’s still a long way’s away, but marijuana reform appears to be coming to the Lone Star State.

The Texas House is set to debate a bill this afternoon to lower the penalties for marijuana possession, according to the Dallas Morning News. As initially written, House Bill 63 would’ve drop the legal penalty for those charged with possessing an ounce or less of weed; in its place, the bill proposed a simple $250 fine. Not a perfect solution, of course—legalization, expungement, and regulation is a better answer—but in a state where half of drug possession arrests are for marijuana, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, it could have been a baby step in the right direction.

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It would also be a boon to Texas residents given how strict and regressive the current system is. Just last month, Waco School District Superintendent A. Marcus Nelson was forced to resign after he was arrested by a Waco officer after he admitted during a traffic stop that a friend had given him two joints to help him deal with lower back pain. In theory, under H.B. 63, Nelson could have walked away from the traffic stop with just a fine, his job, and no mark on his record.

Unfortunately (and predictably), because Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the uber-conservative state Senate stand staunchly against anything moving in the direction of legalization, the bill’s Democratic sponsor, Rep. Joe Moody, was forced to redraw the bill to make a half-measure of that baby step.

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H.B. 63 would now bump down Texas’ penalty ever so slightly; if passed, those caught with less than an ounce will face a Class C misdemeanor and a fine of no more than $500. It would also prevent any over-eager cops from arresting and jailing those people. The misdemeanor would still show up on a person’s record, but the bill makes it easier for them to take the necessary legal route to have it expunged.

Gov. Greg Abott has voiced his support for lowering the criminal penalties, but has never come out in support of full decriminalization. In an interview with the Morning News, Moody said that he and others on both sides of the aisle in the House are in favor of decriminalization, but that the concessions were necessary if he didn’t want it to be dead on arrival when it hit the state Senate floor.

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“I certainly think there is significant bipartisan support for [decriminalization],” Moody told the Morning News. But “there are others in this building who think we can get to the same conclusion in a different way.... There’s an entire body across the hall. And there’s only one signature that matters.”

As Moody made clear, it doesn’t really matter, but 53 percent of Texans are in favor of legalization.

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