The Texas House of Representatives just passed a landmark bill to decriminalize minor cannabis possession, concluding a week of serious drug reform legislation.
The new bill, officially known as HB 441, would reclassify minor cannabis possession as a Class C misdemeanor. If passed, anyone caught with up to an ounce of weed could be hit with a $500 fine, but could not be sent to prison. Anyone charged under this new bill could have their case deferred for a year if they plead guilty and pay their fine. After the year is up, the charge would disappear from the offender’s permanent criminal record, as long as they have followed the judge's orders.
“Texas cannabis bills are on the move and it’s exciting to see bipartisan support for HB 441, which has been carefully crafted to eliminate the threat of arrest and jail time for marijuana possession,” said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, to Marijuana Moment. “Advocates are already gearing up for action in the Senate. If given a fair shot, HB 441 could earn enough support to pass into law.”
The state House approved HB 441 with a 88-40 vote and passed it on to the Senate. This victory is the conclusion of an exciting week for drug reform in Texas. Earlier in the week, Representatives passed a bill to downgrade the criminal charge for possession of up to 2 ounces of THC concentrates to a Class B misdemeanor. The House also passed a bill to expand the state's limited medical cannabis program, and another that would require the state to research using psychedelic therapy to treat veterans with PTSD.
But although the Texas House is clearly ready to modernize the state's antiquated drug laws, these bills face an uphill battle in the state Senate. Last year, the House passed a similar cannabis decriminalization bill, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who controls the Senate, immediately declared the bill “dead.” Patrick has repeatedly voiced his opposition to all avenues of cannabis reform, and may well block these new bills from advancing to a full vote.
Patrick has at least acknowledged that he would be willing to consider expansions to the state's medical program, but only if they are minor. “We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California, where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use,” he said in an interview earlier this year, Marijuana Moment reports.
If Senate Republicans choose to shut down these modest drug reform bills, they may well end up losing seats in next year's midterm elections. Recent polls have found that 60 percent of Texans support full adult-use legalization, indicating that they will be more likely to vote for politicians who share their views on cannabis reform.