Texas Committee Passes Bill to Decriminalize Simple Marijuana Possession

AUSTIN, Texas. (Apr. 5, 2017) – A Texas House committee has approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession. Final passage into law would take a big step toward thwarting federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.

Rep. Joseph Moody (D-El Paso), along with 38 bipartisan co-sponsors, introduced House Bill 81 (HB81). The legislation would change state law so that “a person who knowingly or intentionally possesses a usable quantity of marihuana in an amount that is one ounce or less is liable to the state for a civil penalty not to exceed $250.”

In addition, civil penalties for simple marijuana possession could be waived in certain instances under HB81 if the offender “attends a program that provides education in substance abuse and is approved by the Department of State Health Services or the Texas Department of Public Safety” or “the person performs not more than 10 hours of community service” at the court’s behest. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana would be considered a criminal offense.

The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted to approve HB81 on Apr. 3 by a 4-2 margin. Rep. Moody along with Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi), Rep. Terry Wilson (R-Granite Shoals), and Rep. Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) voted to pass the bill while Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) and Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mount Pleasant) voted to kill HB81. After being approved in its committee,

“This is a bipartisan proposal that represents a moderate shift in how Texas manages low-level marijuana offenses,” said Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “The state’s current policy of arresting and jailing people for simple marijuana possession is completely unwarranted. Law enforcement officials’ time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes.”

LEGALITY

Through the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Decriminalization of marijuana in Texas would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, Texas essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

Texas could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and blocking it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

HB81 will likely receive a full House vote in the near future.