There’s good news for marijuana users and people who have been previously convicted of marijuana-related crimes in Texas. Texas decriminalizes marijuana is a new bill passed by a state legislative panel. Read on to find out more.
Texas Decriminalizes Marijuana: The Facts
The Texas decriminalizes marijuana bill passed unanimously. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved Rep. Joe Moody’s (D) legislation in a 9-0 vote. As a result, individuals will not face arrest or jail time for low-level possession of marijuana.
The bill will also allow people with prior marijuana convictions to have them erased from their criminal records.
“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,” said Moody, who chairs the committee, 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. The person walks away lighter in the wallet, but without any criminal record whatsoever.”
The House of Representatives has passed similar decriminalization proposals in the 2021 and 2019 legislative sessions, but they have stalled in Senate due to opposition from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) who presides over the chamber.
The latest bill HB218, combines two separate measures from the most recent session, both of which passed on the House Floor. It will be heading to the House of Calendars Committee and scheduled for floor action.
The Texas decriminalizes marijuana bill would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or cannabis concentrates a Class C misdemeanor removing the risk of jail time. Instead, a $500 fine would be imposed. It replaces the current law which imposes 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2000 for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
It also states that possession of up to two ounces of marijuana would not result in arrest. Rather, violators would be cited and released. They would also have the option of having those violations removed from their records by paying $30 and going through a court process.
The committee adopted a substitute version of the Texas decriminalizes marijuana bill on Tuesday but its text has not yet been posted. Moody did not describe any substantive changes to the bill prior to the vote.
A December University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll shows Nearly 3 in 4 Texas voters (72%) support Texas decriminalizes marijuana while 55% support broader legalization. Just 17% say it shouldn’t be legal at all.
What’s Happening Locally
Activists in the state have successfully enacted cannabis reform policies on a local level. Voters in Denton, Elgin, Killeen San Marcos, and Harker Heights passed decriminalization ballot measures in November. San Antonio voters are set to decide on a similar cannabis initiative in May.
There has been some resistance to Texas decriminalizes marijuana reforms by local officials in certain cities. There’s a City Council initiative to repeal decriminalization in Harker Heights. Activists are currently working on a ballot measure that would undo the repeal.
Advocates are also keeping watch on San Marcos where the outgoing district attorney recently requested that the state attorney general issue a legal opinion on a separate decriminalization measure that was overwhelmingly approved by voters.
Federal Decriminalization of Marijuana
Texas decriminalizes marijuana and other states that are decriminalizing marijuana may be inspired by President Biden’s decriminalization measures. Biden pardoned all prior federal offenses of simple marijuana possession back in October of 2022.
“No one should be in jail for using or possessing marijuana. It’s legal in many states and criminal records for marijuana possession have led to needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities.
“And that’s before you address the racial disparities around who suffers the consequences. While white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people are arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Bident said in a video shortly after announcing the legislation.
“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” the President went on to say.
Biden’s legislation was helpful for some 6500 people who have been charged with marijuana-related crimes on a federal level. These people have had difficulty obtaining employment and housing due to having a criminal record. Now that their records will be expunged, that will no longer be the case.
However, most smaller marijuana-related offenses occur at a local level and Biden’s ruling has no effect on local governments. Biden is encouraging states to follow in his footsteps and decriminalize at a local level. The Texas decriminalizes marijuana legislation is a sign that people are listening.
Other Steps Towards Legalization
While marijuana has been decriminalized at a federal level, it has not been federally legalized or de-scheduled. Marijuana is still considered a Category I drug showing it as having a high potential for addiction and no potential for medical use. It is currently in the same category as heroin.
This has led some users open to prosecution, even in places where the drug is legal.
Officials are looking into moving marijuana to a different category or taking it off the schedule completely. However, this is easier said than done.
“The process will take some time because it must be based on a careful consideration of all the available evidence including scientific and medical information that’s available,” one senior official said.
Biden also noted that certain rules on marijuana would remain in place, even in the face of de-scheduling and decriminalization measures.
“Even as federal and local regulation of marijuana change, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place,” the president noted.
Texas decriminalizes marijuana is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.