The criminal penalties for possessing marijuana is the subject of much debate in the state of Texas right now.
Behind these discussions is a dispute over what is considered ample punishment for the offense — particularly when an offender possesses one ounce or less of the substance.
Under Texas law, if you are in possession of fewer than two ounces of marijuana it’s a Class B misdemeanor that can subject you to arrest. If convicted, you can face up to six months in jail, up to a $2,000 fine or both.
But how can reducing penalties for low-level marijuana possession be implemented successfully?
Possession of small amounts of marijuana happens so often in the state of Texas that law enforcement and legislators are debating how to handle it.
Some argue that the current penalties are expensive and an unnecessary waste of government resources. They are also concerned with a conviction for the offense carrying mean an offender has a criminal record.
It’s a position perhaps best summed up by the Hon. John Delaney, a retired Texas District Court judge.
“Every year we arrest about 60,000 people in Texas for possession of tiny amounts of marijuana,” he said, according to the Times Record News. “Each arrest takes about two hours of police time, not to mention the added burden on jails and courts.”
House Bill 81, authored by Joe Moody (D-El Paso) and Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), seeks to address the issue.
If the bill becomes law, the current penalty would be replaced with a $250 fine — a civil offense that wouldn’t carry the stigma of a criminal record.
On March 13, a hearing was held on the bill by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. In a matter of weeks, a vote will determine whether the bill will continue to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Law Enforcement Support
House Bill 81 has received support from former and current members of the law enforcement community, including Nick Novello, a veteran police officer with the Dallas Police Department.
In February, Novello was one of the law enforcement officers that was at the Texas Capitol building to support Moody, who spoke in support of the bill in Austin.
“I went to Austin (to support Moody) because after 35 years on the street I’m just tired of seeing kids’ lives defined by marijuana arrests,” Novello said, according to Stephen Young at the Dallas Observer. “Our culture will not endure much more of what w’re doing to it. If Hillary (Clinton) was right when she said it takes a village to raise a child, then my question is, ‘What happens when that village criminalizes and incarcerates its children?’ That’s what the current marijuana policies are doing.”
Novello and some of his fellow officers, however, aren’t alone in their support of this bill to decriminalize possession of marijuana in Texas.
Other Marijuana Initiatives
House Bill 81 isn’t the only measure being taken to decriminalize the possession of marijuana that’s receiving the support of the law enforcement community.
Harris County has already implemented a program that decriminalizes it.
Starting March 1, those in Harris County found with small amounts of marijuana can elect to take a course on decision-making and pay a $150 fine.
It’s a program that’s receiving support from Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg, who also proposed the change.
“We believe that our constituents want us spending their tax dollars making them safer and that they agree that arresting and prosecuting small amounts of marijuana isn’t delivering a measurable improvement in people’s safety,” she said, according to the Associated Press.
The Future of the Law
While the final decision on House Bill 81 remains to be seen, the support it’s receiving from some current and former members of the law enforcement community, judges and lawmakers cannot be ignored.
States like Colorado and California have legalized the recreational use of marijuana for people of certain ages, helping to spark similar discussions in Florida and other places.
While Texas isn’t there yet, House Bill 81, and the support it’s receiving from some members of the law enforcement community and judiciary may ease penalties for possessing marijuana.
The future of House Bill 81 should become much clearer in the near future.
While House Bill 81’s future is uncertain, it looks as if it’s only a matter of time before Texas’s law on the possession of marijuana changes.