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News, Politics

Texas House Passes Bill to Reduce Penalties for Possession

Mary Ekundayo

by Mary Ekundayo

June 5, 2023 12:00 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Texas House Passes Bill to Reduce Penalties for Possession

The Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would decriminalize the possession of one ounce and below of marijuana. During the last two legislative sessions in 2019 and 2021, the House had passed similar pot decriminalization bills but they were stalled, having faced opposition in the Senate.

Texas Decreases Drug Penalties

KXAN reports that according to the bill, the charges for possessing up to one ounce of pot or cannabis concentrate have been reduced to a Class C misdemeanor. The offense is not subject to arrest but still carries a fine of up to $500.  Also, many Texans that have been previously charged with such crimes can have it expunged from their criminal records.

Alongside marijuana, House Bill 218 includes the possession of certain synthetic cannabinoids, certain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and some drug paraphernalia.

As explained by Democratic state Representative, Joe Moody, persons found with up to one ounce of pot would be given a ticket and would go to court. They would then be given six months to pay the fine assessed and must stay out of trouble during that period.

The bill has also reduced the penalties for other marijuana offenses. The possession of one to two ounces of cannabis has now been reduced to a Class B misdemeanor. It is punishable by a jail term of up to 180 days alongside a fine of up to $2,000. Class B misdemeanors also have other penalties like automatic suspension of driver’s licenses and the prevention of obtaining a firearm license for about five years.

The possession of two to four ounces is now classified as a Class A demeanor, subject to a fine of about $4,000 and a county jail term of up to a year. The possession of more than four ounces of cannabis and any pot concentrate is classified as a felony.

One of the bill authors, Joe Moody, explained that tens of thousands of people have been arrested for the possession of cannabis for personal use. These arrests have led to unending hours of law enforcement and prosecution time while costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Moreso, younger people end up being tagged criminals, which creates a lifetime obstacle to education, housing, jobs, and other opportunities.

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He further said that the bill would change the way the law is enforced around the personal possession and use of marijuana. He mentioned that ‘What it does is turn personal use possession into a non-arrestable Class C offense’. And that ‘Possessing a small amount of cannabis is still illegal. We’re just addressing it in a smarter way than we do now.’

Texans Want Drug Reform

A study in 2021 reveals that 60% of Texas voters favor the opinion that possessing small or large amounts of cannabis should be legal, based on necessity. Up to ten bills have previously been passed in an attempt to reduce the criminal charges for pot possession statewide. However, only House Bill 99 has made it out of committee. This bill was aimed at eliminating the arrests and the suspension of the driver’s license of persons found in possession of marijuana. Such persons would be fined instead.

House Bill 99 was authored by Rep. Steve Toth. Although he doesn’t support the decriminalization or legalization of cannabis, he believes the racial imbalance in pot arrests must be curbed.

Cannabis possession charges have been a bit dicey since the legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products like CBD oil. It has been quite difficult to differentiate between illegal pot and legal hemp. Hence, there has been a decline in the number of low-level possession charges in Florida. As of 2019, about 45,000 arrests were recorded for the possession of cannabis, while 63,000 arrests were reported in 2018. The Department of Public Safety has instructed its officers to issue citations instead of arrests, for the possession of less than 4 ounces of cannabis.

Also, there was the hearing of another bill (HB 3562) from Moody by the House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee in April. The bill was aimed at legalizing the sale of marijuana on a broader scale. It would allow adults to buy, possess and gift up to 2.5 ounces of pot. They could also grow about 12 plants in an enclosed and secure place. The Texas Department of Licensing is to be in charge of this while putting measures in place to make the licensing of marijuana businesses possible.

According to HB 3562, part of the sales tax and revenue obtained from cannabis products would be used to establish Cannabis Testing and Quality Control fund as well as Public School Teachers fund. Furthermore, localities can set rules for the marijuana businesses in their area. They can determine their locations, hours of operation, approach to business, the number of cannabis growers and testing facilities, etc. But they cannot ban marijuana businesses.

Moody considered the hearing of the bill as historic. According to him it ‘reflects the changing times we’re in, and I think of this as the beginning of a public conversation about whether this is the right policy for our state. I certainly think it is.’

In April, the House also passed a bill that allows medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids for patients with chronic pains. Despite the rejection of similar bills in 2019 and 2021, House Bill 218 is on its way to the Senate for review.

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