AUSTIN, TX — As the legalization of marijuana — and marijuana reform in general — has gained traction across the country, legislators in Texas are considering several bills that would reduce the penalties for some marijuana offenses..
Introduced in February and gaining traction among lawmakers is House Bill 184, which would reduce the penalty for first-time offenders charged with possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. These possession charges would be reduced to a class C misdemeanor.
Under present law, the possession of one ounce of cannabis or less is classified as a Class B criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The bill was approved by members of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on April 23 by a 6-3 vote. Prior to approving the bill, the committee amended the legislation to apply only to people under the age of 21.
“While this is a small step in the process of legalization in Texas, it speaks volumes to the winds of change in our state,” said Texas NORML in a statement following the vote. “This is an amazing step for Texas.”
Over 80,000 citizens are arrested in Texas each year for marijuana violations. It is estimated that 97% of those arrested are charged for possession alone — not trafficking, cultivation, or sale.
Another bill under consideration by Texas lawmakers would not legalize medical marijuana in Texas, but would provide some protection for medical marijuana patients to avoid punishment.
Under House Bill 594, introduced by Rep. Elliot Naishtat (D-Austin), 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.
If passed, medical marijuana patients could have the charges dismissed if they were able to provide proof that their doctor had recommended marijuana as a tool to avoid symptoms of their illness.
The bill also provides protections for physicians who recommend marijuana use to their patients.
House Bill 594 received a hearing by the Committee on Public Health on May 1, but the committee has delayed a vote until Monday, May 6, the final day for action by a committee for a bill to advance this year.
A third bill, House Bill 182 was also introduced earlier this year, but died when a revised version was introduced as House Bill 184.