New FBI figures that show more Texans were arrested for possession of relatively small amounts of marijuana than any other state in 2016 has jump started talk in the Legislature about liberalizing marijuana laws, and even moving toward legalization, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Nearly 65,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in Texas in 2016.
"For a misdemeanor charge of marijuana possession, these citizens can have their opportunities for eeducation, access to employment, professional advancement, and even options for housing severely limited," Colt DeMorris of the El Paso Chapter of the National Association for the Reform of Marijuana Laws told the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
A bill in the 2017 session to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, as eight states have done, got dozens of co-sponsors, but never made it out of the Texas House.
"At least 75% of Texans are in favor of sensible cannabis policy to be enacted, including the decriminalization or penalty reduction," DeMorris said.
Small businesses are also concerned about the state's marijuana laws, which are some of the strictest in the nation, because a person with a marijuana arrest on his or her record is barred from applying for many types of government contracts, which is the life blood of many companies.
Decriminalization is the lifting of penalties and criminal records for possession of marijuana, similar to the 'Cite and Release' program which has been proposed in Bexar County. It is not complete legalization, as has been done in Colorado and elsewhere.
One of the main stumbling blocks to any marijuana reform legislation is the opposition of Gov. Greg Abbott, although Abbott has indicated some evolution in his position lately, signaling that he could support an expansion of the state's very limited medical marijuana laws, including approving the use of cannabis oil for autism patients.