Bill Would Reduce Jail Time for Simple Possession Offenses
AUSTIN, TX — A bill that would reduce penalties for simple marijuana possession in Texas has been scheduled for a hearing by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Tuesday.
The bill, House Bill 184, would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $500, but with no possibility of jail time.
Possession of two ounces or less is currently a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 dollars.
Houston Democrat Harold Dutton, Jr. re-introduced the bill this year. Dutton sponsored an identical bill in the 2011-12 legislative session, but the bill died in committee.
While stopping short of decriminalization, the penalty reduction proposal would be significant for a state known to have some of the toughest drug laws in the country.
According to a report from the Marijuana Policy Project, 97% of all marijuana arrests in Texas during 2007 were for simple possession.
Despite its reputation as a libertarian state with an emphasis on personal freedom and limited government, few Texas legislators have been willing to endorse those principles when it comes to marijuana policy reform, although the Texas Democratic Party made the decriminalization of marijuana part of its official platform in 2012.
Meanwhile, Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin) has filed a bill that would not legalize medical marijuana in Texas, but would provide some protection for medical marijuana patients to avoid punishment.
Under his bill, HB 594, a person arrested for marijuana could enter evidence that their doctor gave instructions that use of the drug could provide benefits for their illness, leading to a dismissal of the charges.
The bill also provides protections for physicians who recommend marijuana use to their patients. HB 594 remains pending in the House Public Health Committee.
Texas residents are urged to contact their elected officials and encourage them to support these bills. The Texas legislative session ends in May.