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Texas House Committee OK’s Weed Decriminalization

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Looks like marijuana decriminalization has an honest shot in the Texas House this session. Whether that will carry over to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's domain in the Senate is yet to be seen.

Monday afternoon, the House's Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved a bill making Texans caught with small amounts of marijuana subject to a fine, rather than any jail time. Under Texas law, weed possession is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. House Bill 63, written by Rep. Joe Moody, an El Paso Democrat, would make the penalty for getting caught with less than an ounce of weed a $250 fine.

A third possession charge would up the fine to $500 and see the person busted subject to a Class C misdemeanor, the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

“We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Overall, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that we shouldn’t be wasting valuable criminal justice resources arresting and prosecuting people for small amounts of marijuana. Texas is ready.”

Monday marks the third time a decriminalization bill written by Moody has made it past the House's committee level but the earliest it's ever made it out of committee. Two years ago, it took a similar bill until April 3 to make it to the chamber's powerful calendars committee, which sets the agenda for the House floor. The 2017 bill never received a vote, thanks to a procedural maneuver by the arch-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus that left dozens of bills pending at a key deadline. 

While Monday's vote is a big first step for potential marijuana reform in Texas this year, Moody's bill is unlikely to become law, even if it passes the full Texas House. Earlier this year, Patrick, who controls the state Senate's agenda in his role as the body's president, said 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,” in a statement to the Texas Tribune.

Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy has targeted Patrick with a letter drive and petition that have gained almost 3,000 signatures. 

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