Texas: Lawmaker Introducing Bill To Reduce Penalties For Marijuana Possession
By Steve Elliott
Texas state Rep. Joe Moody introduced a bill Monday morning that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Texas. The bill would remove the threat of arrest, jail time and a criminal record for possession of up to an ounce of cannabis, reducing the penalty to a $100 civil fine.
Rep. Moody announced the details of the bill at a news conference hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy at 11:30 a.m. CT at the Texas State Capitol.
Rep. Moody was joined by retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney, Matt Simpson of the ACLU of Texas, Ann Lee of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, Heather Fazio of the Marijuana Policy Project, and other representatives of the coalition, including the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody said. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
"The War on Marijuana is a failure and has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, at tremendous human and financial cost,” said strategist Matthew Simpson of the ACLU of Texas, reports Mark Reagan at the San Antonio Current.
"Giving a ticket for small amounts of marijuana makes sense, said Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. "The fine can be paid by mail, so police, prosecutors, and our courts will be able to use their limited resources for more important matters."
Support for reducing cannabis penalties spans the political spectrum, according to Ann Lee, executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. "The prohibition of marijuana is diametrically opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility, and personal freedom, Lee said. "There is nothing conservative about it."
Texas can't afford to keep arresting and jailing people for small-time pot possession, according to Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "Most Americans are fed up with laws that saddle people with criminal records just for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol," Fazio said.
The bill, backed by the MPP, is the first in a series that the legalization group expects to be introduced in the Lone Star State this year, reports Katy Steinmetz at Time Magazine. The next bill will attempt to legalize medical marijuana, and the third will attempt to legalize recreational marijuana.
The latter two are considered long shots in Texas. "Texas doesn't seem to be ready for a full legal market," Fazio said. "That doesn't mean that the conversation shouldn't be happening."
Texas Governor Rick Perry has said he opposes legalization, but has hinted that he supports decriminalizing cannabis. He also claimed the state has "kind of done that." In 2007, Texas passed a measure giving local governments the power to respond to marijuana possession with a summons rather than an arrest, but few counties have adopted it, and someone issued a summons can still end up behind bars.
A 2013 poll commissioned by MPP found that 61 percent of Texas residents would support reducing penalties for marijuana like Moody's bill would do, while 58 percent would support the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis.
Currently, Texans convicted of possession of less than two ounces of marijuana face a maximum $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail.
For more information, visit Texans For Responsible Marijuana Policy at http://texasmarijuanapolicy.org/ .