Texas Lawmakers File Bills Aimed at Marijuana Legalization, Reducing Penalties
Monday was the first day Texas lawmakers could file bills ahead of the 2017 Legislative Session that starts early next year. While the first day of bill fillings saw a number of topics addressed, bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana caught some attention.
On Election Day, voters in Nevada, California, Massachusetts, and Maine all voted in favor of recreational marijuana. In a few other states, medical marijuana initiatives were approved by voters.
While the chances of Texas passing any new laws to decriminalize marijuana are small, six bills have already been filed according to the Texas Tribune.
- House Bill 58 by state Rep. James White, R-Woodville, would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders based on the principle that first-time defendants are often self-correcting. The measure is intended to conserve law enforcement and corrections resources, White said in a news release.
- State Rep. Joseph "Joe" Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 81, which aims to replace criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $250. The bill also allows Texans to avoid arrest and possible jail time for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Moody authored a similar bill during the last legislative session; it did not pass.
- State Rep. Harold Dutton Jr., D-Houston, filed House Bill 82, which aims to classify a conviction for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of Class B. However, if a person is convicted three times it would revert back to a Class B misdemeanor. Dutton co-authored a similar bill last session with Moody.
- State Sen. José Rodríguez filed Senate Joint Resolution 17, which would allow voters to decide whether marijuana should be legalized in Texas, following the pattern of a number of states.
- Senate Joint Resolution 18, also authored by Rodríguez, would allow voters to decide whether to legalize marijuana for medical use if recommended by a health care provider. "It is long past time we allow the people to decide," Rodríguez said in a statement.
- Rodríguez also filed Senate Bill 170, which would change possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal offense to a civil one.
Given the conservative nature of both the House and Senate, along with the long list of other important issues facing the legislature, the chances of anything dealing with pot laws passing is slim, but it's worth keeping an eye on.