Supporters of decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana say they have the wind at their backs in the current session of the Texas Legislature, as a decriminalization bill was easily approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee on Monday, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The Chief Sponsor of the bill, State Rep Joe Moody (D-El Paso) says his bill makes sense.
"This keeps marijuana illegal but enforces those laws with a civil penalty, instead of a criminal one," Moody said.
Moody said his measure has the support of Republicans who feel that arrested people for having a joint in their pocket is a waste of taxpayer money.
"There are roughly 70,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Texas each year," he said. "98% of those arrests are for possession of small amounts, with a price tag of $730 million each year."
Moody says possession of less than two ounces of marijuana would be like a speeding ticket. It is still a crime, but the violator would get a ticket, with a notice of where to appear to contest it, or a place to send the fine. The size of the fine has not been determined.
This would also streamline the proposed Bexar County 'cite and release' program. Since local officials don't have the authority to decriminalize marijuana possession, the local law, while similar in calling for a ticket instead of an arrest for possession of small amounts of marijuana, has to include penalties, which in Bexar County's case involve public service work or attending a class on the dangers of using drugs.
The Republican platform for the 2019 session also includes decriminalization and, for the first time, it is supported by Governor Abbott.
Texas has increasingly become an outlier in marijuana laws. Ten states have now completely legalized recreational use of marijuana, and another 21 states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.