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Texas Lawmaker Pushes for Marijuana Decriminalization

State Legislature will consider this reform in the 2017 session.

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A Texas lawmaker has introduced a piece of legislation in the state House of Representatives aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with small time marijuana possession. The proposal is set to be heard at the beginning of the 2017 legislative session.

On Monday, State Representative Joe Moody pre-filed House Bill 81, a measure designed to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana all across the Lone Star State.

Instead of forcing minor marijuana offenders into the criminal justice system, the bill would simply allow these people to pay a $250 fine – never having to endure jail or the after effects of living with a criminal record.

“This bill is about good government and efficient use of resources,” Moody said in a statement. “Arrests and criminal prosecutions of low-level marijuana cases distract law enforcement and prosecutors, leaving fewer resources for violent crime.”

Representative Moody introduced a similar measure last year, but lawmakers failed to give the bill enough attention to ensure it made it to the desk of Governor Greg Abbott before the end of the session. And since the Texas Legislature runs on a biennial system, all marijuana-related issues have been essentially tabled until legislative forces return to work in January of 2017.

It is too early to tell whether the majority of the legislature will come out in support of decriminalization, but some of Moody’s opposition from last year has already said that they will sign on with the bill when it comes time. State Representative Jason Isaac, who did not support an attempt to lower marijuana penalties in the 2015 session, told the Texas Tribune on Monday that the time has come to get serious about this level of reform.

“We’re spending our tax dollars on incarcerating [people that don’t deserve to be incarcerated] because they got caught with a small amount of marijuana,” State Representative Jason Isaac, a supporter of decriminalization, told the Tribune. “These are people that we probably subsidize their public education, we probably subsidize where they went to a state school, and now they’re branded as a criminal when they go to do a background check.”

Some of the latest statistics show that 97 percent of all marijuana-related convictions in Texas are for small time possession.

Local cannabis advocates say they support Representative Moody’s plan to attack the issue in the upcoming session.

“We commend Rep. Moody for introducing meaningful legislation on the first day of the pre-filing period,” Heather Fazio, spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in a statement. “His dedication to sensible policies in Texas is admirable, and we are proud to support HB 81. Imposing a civil penalty instead of criminal penalties makes good sense as it frees up resources that could be used in ways that better serve our communities. No one deserves to have their lives derailed due to a criminal conviction for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.”

A companion bill has also been introduced in the Texas Senate.

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