Texas House Moves Forward with Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating history of cannabis in the Lone Star State, unpack the latest legislation, and explore how these changes could impact Texas’ economy and society. Plus, we’ll look at broader legalization efforts, public opinion, and local developments in Texas. So, buckle up and join us on this thrilling ride through the evolving world of cannabis policy in Texas!

A Brief History of Cannabis in Texas

The history of cannabis in Texas dates back to the early 1900s, when the plant was widely used for industrial and medicinal purposes. However, by the 1930s, the state began to enforce strict regulations on cannabis, leading to its eventual criminalization in 1931. Since then, the state has maintained a conservative stance on cannabis, with only limited medical marijuana use legalized in 2015 under the Compassionate Use Act.

New Legislation for Decriminalization

On Wednesday, April 26, 2023, the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana in the state. Earlier in the day, a committee had heard testimony on separate legislation for broader cannabis legalization and regulation of sales.

Representative Joe Moody (D) presented the legislation, passed on a second reading in a voice vote, setting it up for final passage in the chamber. Moody stated that the bill would lower taxes, improve economic opportunities for Texans, and strengthen law enforcement’s ability to respond to serious crimes by altering the enforcement of personal use possession of cannabis laws.

Impact on Law Enforcement and Texans

The new legislation would free up hundreds of millions of dollars currently used for enforcement, allowing law enforcement to focus on more severe cases instead of processing petty arrests. It would also ensure that individuals caught with small amounts of cannabis would not face a permanent record, which could interfere with jobs, school, housing, and licensure.

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously passed the measure about a month ago. The bill aims to remove the risk of arrest or jail time for low-level possession of cannabis and enable people to eventually erase cannabis issues from their criminal records.

Previous Attempts and Current Status

The House has passed similar cannabis decriminalization proposals during the past legislative sessions in 2021 and 2019. However, these proposals have consistently stalled in the Senate due to opposition from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), who presides over the chamber. It remains to be seen if Patrick will again seek to block the reform legislation.

Key Provisions of the Bill

House Bill 218 combines two separate measures from the most recent session. First, the bill would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, with no risk of jail time and a maximum fine of $500. Possession of up to two ounces would not result in arrest, and violators would be cited and released. Individuals with possession convictions for up to two ounces could also seek expungement through a court process for a $30 fee.

Economic Impact and Public Support

The legislation can potentially boost the Texas economy by lowering taxes and creating new economic opportunities. Moreover, a majority of Texas voters (72%) support decriminalizing marijuana, and more than half (55%) favor broader legalization, according to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in December.

Broader Legalization Efforts

The House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee also held a hearing on another bill from Moody, which would more broadly legalize marijuana sales. HB 3562 proposes a 10% tax on cannabis products, with revenue going to local municipalities, counties, a cannabis testing and quality control fund, and administrative costs. The remainder would support a public school teachers fund.

Local Developments in Texas

On a local level, activists have succeeded in enacting municipal cannabis reform policies. Most recently, voters in five cities passed marijuana decriminalization ballot measures in November. San Antonio voters are set to decide on a similar cannabis decriminalization initiative next month.

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