Texas State Rep Rolls Out Marijuana Decriminalization Bill With Help From Dallas Cop

Thursday morning, Texas state Representative Joe Moody, surrounded by police officers and a retired judge, took a lectern at the Texas Capitol to argue for something he’s pushed hard for over the last two legislative sessions — the decriminalization of marijuana possession.

“This discussion about marijuana policy in Texas has come a very long way in the last couple of years,” Moody said Thursday. “I think that our constituents and the people we represent want to see a reform in our policy, and slowly but surely, the people in this building are coming to the same conclusion.”

Moody’s House Bill 81, if passed, would make the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana a civil offense, punishable by only a $250 fine. Carrying weed for personal use wouldn’t get you a rrested, and it wouldn’t get you a record.

That’s a good thing, says Nick Novello, a veteran Dallas cop who supports Moody’s bill.

“I went to Austin [to support Rep. Moody] because after 35 years on the street I’m just tired of seeing kids’ lives defined by marijuana arrests,” Novello says. “Our culture will not endure much more of what we’re doing to it. If Hillary [Clinton] was right when she said it takes a village to raise a child, the my question is ‘What happens when that village criminalizes and incarcerates its children?’ That’s what the current marijuana policies are doing.”

Novello hopes that, eventually, the state of Texas will go further than Moody’s bill suggests and fully legalize marijuana.

“If you’ve got a young son and he wants to smoke a joint, what would you prefer, that he gets a joint from a dealer where he could end up losing his life because he goes to a dealer and it could be laced with angel dust,” Novello asks, “or that he gets one that’s from a federally regulated entity? It’s not a panacea, but right now, by default, the cartels and the gangs control the stuff. The government has to step in.”

Texas current marijuana laws aren’t doing what they are supposed to do, Novello says. Rather than being a deterrent, they are just criminalizing the state’s kids.

“When Chief Brown said ‘come off the picket lines, and I’ll give you a job’ [to protesters after Dallas’ July 7 police ambush], he knew he couldn’t give them a job,” Novello says. “These guys are largely criminalized. If you want to do something for the black community, stop criminalizing their kids for a joint.”

Last year, as the Dallas City Council considered making marijuana possession a cite-and-release offense — still criminal, but without a mandatory jail stay — Brown pushed back, suggesting that cite-and-release would limit some of his officers’ investigative tools. Novello hopes the next chief will reconsider Brown’s stance.

“It’s disingenuous, it’s faulty reasoning to say ‘we’re not really sure if this would undermine police authority, so we’re going to keep criminalizing these kids,’” Novello says.

Two years ago, Moody’s bill passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, of which Moody is currently chair, without getting a floor vote. He and Novello are hoping that changes this session.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young