New Marijuana Bill Seeks to Decriminalize Low-Level Pot Possession

State Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso introduced a bill in the Texas Legislature on Monday that would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replace them with a civil citation and a fine.

State law currently makes marijuana possession of 2 ounces or less a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail. House Bill 81 seeks to make marijuana possession of an ounce or less a non-criminal offense punishable by a fine of $250.

“This bill is about good government and efficient use of resources,” Moody said in a press release. “Arrests and criminal prosecutions of low-level marijuana cases distract law enforcement and prosecutors, leaving fewer resources for violent crime.”

In the last legislative session, he introduced a similar bill that earned support from more than 40 co-sponsors in the House. The bill was also supported by the Texas Association of Business and a dozen grassroots advocacy organizations, including Texans for Accountable Government and the Texas Young Republicans Federation.

Sen. Jose Rodriguez of El Paso also introduced a companion bill — SB 170 — to the Senate. Rodriguez called current state penal statutes regarding possession of marijuana “antiquated” and “costly.” He claims it costs state and local governments millions of dollars to prosecute and incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders.

“Those convicted often suffer collateral, disproportionate consequences, such as an inability to find employment or access certain benefits like student financial aid or housing assistance,” Rodriguez said.

Heather Fazio, spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, reaffirms Rodriguez’s claim about freeing up resources for the community. “No one deserves to have their lives derailed due to a criminal convictions for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

Of course not everyone agrees.

The Texas Sheriff’s Association, one of the oldest law enforcement associations in the nation, claimed that considering the legalization of marijuana in Texas is reckless and irresponsible despite 26 states and the District of Columbia currently having laws legalizing marijuana in some form.

“While marijuana may not be addictive in most cases, the same people who are susceptible to alcohol addiction are subject to marijuana addiction,” the Sheriff’s Association claimed in its 2014 report “Sheriff’s Association of Texas says ‘No’ to Marijuana.”

But only about 9 percent of people who use marijuana will become abusers, according to a study endorsed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“We have never allowed it, and we never will,” the Sheriff’s Association continued. “Our children are the future of our state, and it is irresponsible for us, as adults, to play fast and loose with their minds and their futures. They are not of an age to make these decisions, so it’s up to us to make the right choices.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.