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Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Possessing small amounts marijuana would no longer come with the threat of jail time if a Texas Democratic representative—and the state’s Republican Party—have their way.

On Monday, the pre-filing period for the upcoming 2019 legislative session, which begins in January, kicked off, and one of the first bills put forward is a proposal to decriminalize cannabis.

“Civil penalty legislation is the first thing I’ve filed on the first day of filing for the 86th Session. There’s been an incredible swell of bipartisan support since last session, and the official Texas Republican and Democratic platforms both approve of this kind of reform now,” Rep. Joe Moody, the bill’s sponsor, said in a press release. “I’m optimistic that this will be the session we finally see smarter, fairer marijuana laws in Texas.”

In June, the Texas Republican Party adopted a platform plank endorsing marijuana decriminalization for the first time.

“We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time,” the state GOP platform now reads.

Advocates believe that 2019 could finally be the year for far-reaching marijuana reform in Texas.

“The time has come for marijuana law reform,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said. “Over the last several years, we’ve seen increasing support and this legislative session offers a unique opportunity for reform. Just as support for reform transcends partisan politics among Texas voters, we also see unprecedented bipartisan support at the Capitol.”

During a debate with his reelection opponent in September, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for the first time expressed openness to marijuana law reform.

“One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana,” he said.

“I would be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for [marijuana] possession of two ounces or less from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor,” Abbott said.

While that would fall short of the decriminalization proposal put forth by Moody and supported by advocates, it signals that cannabis reform is now possible in the Lone Star State.

Moody’s bill would eliminate the threat of arrest, jail time and a criminal record for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.

Several other pieces of marijuana legislation were also pre-filed on Monday, including several to expand the state’s existing very limited medical cannabis program, one of which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2019.

This piece was updated to note that other cannabis-related bills have also been introduced.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Texas Lawmaker Files Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Why Texas Marijuana Reform Failed Despite Bipartisan Support

Why Texas Marijuana Reform Failed Despite Bipartisan Support

Despite strong bipartisan support, public outreach and multiple hearings, Texas will have to wait until 2019 for marijuana reform. The main reason for the failure was scheduling.

The hearing for HB 2107 was held late in the legislative session, which means paperwork wasn’t filed in time for a vote. Texas lawmakers heard from law enforcement, doctors, patients, caregivers, veterans, and activists who supported the bill that would have allowed whole plant cannabis be made available to patients with qualifying conditions. Opposition mainly came from law enforcement and doctors who specialize in treating pain. A statewide awareness campaign helped educate the public on the importance of cannabis reform, and HB 2107 had support from 77 state legislators.

HB 81, which was co-sponsored by State representatives Joe Moody, D-El Paso and Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, would have reduced penalties for marijuana possession to a $250 maximum for one ounce of cannabis or less, plus a citation. The vote was scheduled for the final day of the session but didn’t make it to the floor. The bill was an effort to curb mass incarceration and reign in the cost of prosecuting minor drug crimes, and was backed by 44 state legislators.

“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,”

said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney in March. “Each marijuana arrest uses about 2.5 hours of police time. With 60,000-70,000 people arrested in Texas annually, this is a significant amount of police time that could be devoted to patrolling residential neighborhoods and business locations and responding to emergency calls.”

Despite the support for both bills, the legislative session was packed with numerous bills that never made it to a vote. Activists are still encouraged by how far marijuana reform advanced through committees, and there has been speculation about revising the bills as amendments that could be tacked onto other legislation.

Should Texas legalize medical marijuana during the next legislative session in 2019, it would become the 30th state to do so. Nearly 60 percent of Americans now live in a state where marijuana has been legalized in some form.

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