Texas House Passes Bill to Reduce Marijuana Possession Penalties

It's not decriminalization, but it's a start. Late Monday afternoon, the Texas House of Representatives signed off on a bill that would reduce Texas' penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor, the same criminal penalty reserved for traffic tickets and driving with an open container of alcohol.

El Paso state Rep. Joe Moody, House Bill 63's author, has pushed for marijuana decriminalization for the better part of a decade. Moody's bill is the first of its kind even to receive a vote by the Texas House.

While the bill that passed the House on Monday is a watered-down version of the one he initially filed earlier in the legislative session, Moody said he wanted to pass something Texas Gov. Greg Abbott would actually sign. Abbott supports so-called "B-to-C" legislation but not full decriminalization.

"I'm not going to sacrifice the good for the perfect," Moody said. "If this is what we can do, then this is what we must do."

The only vocal opposition to Moody's bill on the House floor came from southeast Texas Republican Cecil Bell.

"We are taking the position of legalizing it if you have enough money," Bell said, complaining that Moody's bill would allow those who could afford to do so to pay their way to legalization.

The version of Moody's bill that passed the House would allow those receiving tickets for marijuana possession to seek to have the ticket or their possession conviction taken off their record a year after they were busted. Wiping the possession conviction off people's records allows them to seek financial aid to go to college and have better housing and employment opportunities, Moody said. 

"This isn't about whether marijuana is good or bad," Moody said. "It's about whether what we are doing now is good policy."

Texas NORML, which supports the total legalization of marijuana in Texas, called Moody's bill a "historic step forward in changing Texas’ current draconian laws" after the vote, despite its limited scope.

While Abbott is likely to sign Moody's bill if given the opportunity, the legislation faces a major hurdle before reaching the governor's desk. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who controls the Texas Senate's agenda, told the Texas Tribune in March 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.”

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