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The Texas House of Representatives on Wednesday gave preliminary approval a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The legislation, House Bill 218, was approved on its second reading by members of the House with a voice vote Wednesday afternoon, leaving one more vote in the chamber before final passage, according to a report from Marijuana Moment.
The bill, which was passed unanimously by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last month, would remove criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana or cannabis concentrate. Such possession would be reclassified as a Class C misdemeanor, a citable offense not subject to arrest and carrying a fine of up to $500.
“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,’” Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody said at a committee hearing for the legislation in March according to a report from Marijuana Moment.
The legislation also reduces the penalties for other marijuana offenses, reducing possession of one to two ounces of marijuana to a Class B misdemeanor that is not subject to arrest. Possession of between two and four ounces of pot would be reduced to a Class A misdemeanor. The legislation also includes provisions providing for the expungement of some past marijuana possession convictions.
Under current Texas state law, possession of up to two ounces of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor. Possession of two to four ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, subject to up to a year in county jail time and a fine of up to $4,000. Possession of more than four ounces of pot or any amount of cannabis concentrate is a felony.
“There are tens of thousands of arrests for personal use possession in Texas annually and those cost our state hundreds of millions of dollars every single year, not to mention countless hours of law enforcement and prosecutor time,” Moody told the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. “They also tag people, mostly young people, with criminal records that create life-long obstacles to jobs, education, housing and other opportunities. That’s an awful investment and an awful outcome any way you slice it.”
The Texas House of Representatives passed similar cannabis decriminalization bills during the last two legislative sessions, but both times the legislation has failed to gain approval from the state Senate.
House Panel To Consider Broader Cannabis Legalization Bill
House lawmakers were also expected to consider a broader recreational marijuana legalization bill from Moody on Wednesday with a hearing by the Licensing and Administrative Procedures Committee. The legislation, House Bill 3652, would allow the use, possession and transportation up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis by adults 21 and older. The bill would also allow people to grow up to 12 cannabis plants at home. Additionally, the bill contains provisions to expunge convictions for past low-level marijuana offenses.
House 218 now has one vote remaining before final passage in the Texas House of Representatives.
The measure also legalizes the commercial production and sale of marijuana products, which would be taxed at a rate of 10%. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation would be tasked with regulating recreational marijuana and licensing adult-use cannabis businesses.
Although the bill is unlikely to gain approval in the Senate, Daryoush Austin Zamhariri, the creator and chief editor of the Fort Worth-based news site Texas Cannabis Collective, said the fact that the legislation has gained a committee hearing is a step forward for the movement to reform cannabis policy in the Lone Star State.
“It’s late in the session and anything is possible, but it certainly does face an extreme uphill battle,” Zamhariri told the Dallas Observer. “I think what is important is that at least the public sees that somewhere in the Capitol of Texas, there are elected officials ready to have the discussion of whole-plant cannabis legalization and what that may look like.”
Separate legislation from Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, House Bill 1937, would let county and municipal governments legalize recreational marijuana at the local level. The measure directs the Texas Commission of Licensing and Regulation to adopt all necessary rules for the administration and enforcement of the bill, including licensing, regulation, testing standards, and transportation.