A bill that would reduce the penalties for marijuana possession in Texas got a nudge forward after an approval on May 4 by a committee in the state House of Representatives. HB 507, authored by Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil fine of up to $250.
The bill was approved by the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. Under current Texas law, individuals who possess less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record; they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
"Texas cannot afford to continue criminalizing tens of thousands of citizens for marijuana possession each year," said Rep. Moody in a statement. "We need to start taking a more level-headed approach. It is neither fair nor prudent to arrest people, jail them and give them criminal records for such a low-level, non-violent offense."
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in 2012, there were 72,150 arrests or citations issued for marijuana-related offenses in Texas — 97 percent of which were for simple possession. And yet, that same year, nearly 90 percent of all burglaries, including home invasions, and 88 percent of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved.
Ann Lee, executive director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), said that this is a change that Texans want and need.
"We hope our elected officials will do the right thing here and listen to their constituents," she said. "Our state needs to get out of the business of arresting and criminalizing people for possessing marijuana."
Lee and her husband, Bob, founded RAMP based on the belief that the prohibition of marijuana is opposed to the Republican principles of limited government, individual responsibility and personal freedom.
According to a poll conducted by the University of Texas in February 2015, 76 percent of likely voters in Texas favor reform of marijuana laws.
The Monday night vote was a second chance after three marijuana bills were voted down on May 1, including HB 507 and two others that would reduce small amounts of marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor.
Representative Abel Herrero, chairman of the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, reconsidered and voted favorably for Moody's HB 507 on Monday, alongside Rep. Terry Canales. Yay Moody, yay Herrero, yay Canales. Voting against the bill were Plano representatives Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen. Booo Leach, boooo Shaheen.
The measure will now advance to the House Calendars Committee, where it must quickly pass in order to be debated on the House floor. Senate Bill 1417, the companion to Moody's, has been assigned to the Criminal Justice Committee but has not come up for a hearing.