A Texas legislative panel has unanimously approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 9-0 on Tuesday to advance Rep. Joe Moody’s (D) legislation, which would remove the risk of arrest or jail time for low-level possession of cannabis and allow people to eventually erase cannabis issues from their criminal records.
The action comes about a week after the panel heard testimony on the measure at a hearing.
“Basically, the person is given a ticket goes to court, they’re assessed a fine, then the court tells them, ‘You’ve got six months to pay and you need to stay out of trouble during that time,’” Moody, who chairs the committee, said at the hearing.
“If the person does their part, the court dismisses the charges, and on a request of the individual, deletes the entire record of it,” he said. “The person walks away lighter in the wallet but without any criminal record whatsoever.”
The full House of Representatives has already passed similar cannabis decriminalization proposals during the past two legislative sessions, in 2021 and 2019. But so far the proposals have consistently stalled in the Senate amid opposition from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the chamber.
The latest bill, HB 218, combines two separate measures from the most recent session, both of which passed on the House floor. It next heads to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor action.
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Nearly 3 in 4 Texas voters (72 percent) support decriminalizing marijuana, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in December. More than half (55 percent), meanwhile, said they’re in favor of broader legalization. Seventeen percent said it shouldn’t be legal at all.
As introduced, this session’s bill would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or cannabis concentrates a Class C misdemeanor, removing the risk of jail time and instead imposing a maximum fine of $500. Existing law classifies possession of small amounts of cannabis as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
The bill also specifies that possession of up to two ounces of cannabis would not result in an arrest, meaning violators would be cited and released. Further, people with possession convictions for up to two ounces of marijuana could seek to have those convictions expunged through a court process for a $30 fee.
The committee adopted a substitute version of the bill on Tuesday but its text is not yet posted and Moody did not describe any substantive changes prior to the vote.
HB 218 passes unanimously by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. It heads to the Calendars Committee to be scheduled for consideration by the full #Texas House of Representatives. #TXLege #TexasNORML #NORML
— Texas NORML (@TexasNORML) March 7, 2023
On the local level in Texas, meanwhile, activists have succeeded in enacting municipal cannabis reform policies. Most recently, voters in five cities—Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos passed marijuana decriminalization ballot measures in November.
Voters in San Antonio as set to decide on a similar cannabis initiative in May.
There has been some resistance to the reforms by local officials in some cities, however, and in Harker Heights, activists are working to qualify a ballot measure that would undo the City Council’s repeal of the voter-approved decriminalization initiative there.
Advocates are also keeping their eyes on San Marcos, where outgoing district attorney recently made a request that the state attorney general issue a legal opinion on a separate decriminalization initiative that local voters overwhelmingly approved.
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