It isn't on the agenda for the Special Session so it won't go anywhere, but the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee is holding hearings on the decriminalization of marijuana, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The measure introduced by State Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) would dictate that possession of less than an ounce of marijuana be punishable only by a 'traffic ticket' style civil fine, with on criminal conviction.
But Moody says his proposal also has a 'four strikes and your out' provision."If someone has been given that civil citation on three prior occasions, we move that person back into the criminal arena," Moody said.
Several witnesses spoke out about the amazing financial burden on the courts and on taxpayers, as well as the damage a small time marijuana conviction does to the mainly young individuals who are snared by current laws.
“Most Texans oppose current penalties for marijuana possession,” said Nick Novello, an active duty Dallas police officer with 35 years of experience. “Enforcing unpopular and unreasonable laws creates unnecessary hostility between law enforcement and the people in our communities.”
Moody pointed out that many local officials, including the Sheriff and District Attorney in Bexar County, are currently working on decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession on their own, without the sanction of the Legislature.
"We spend an inordinate amount of money on offenders who are by and large young, and are very unlikely to reoffend," Moody said.
Moody pointed out that the benefit would overwhelmingly go to local governments, who would no longer have to have their police officers spend, in many cases, half of a shift arresting and processing small time marijuana possession cases, and would no longer have to pay to magistrate and jail these individuals.
More than 60,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession just last year. Many witnesses said each one of those arrests represent not only money out of taxpayers pockets, but a loss of the time of police officers who could be busy fighting violent crime, burglaries, and other crimes.
Opposition to the proposal came from individuals who were concerned about whether decriminalization of marijuana would lead to decriminalization of other drugs.
Gov. Abbott is a staunch opponent of any sort of liberalization of the state's marijuana policy, and has indicated he would not sign any bills allowing medical marijuana, decriminalization, or legalization.