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Weeding Out Misdemeanors? Iconic Red State Texas Considers Marijuana Decriminalization Measures.

On Friday, The Texas Tribune featured a report on growing support for marijuana decriminalization measures in Texas. Under current Texas law, possession of any amount of marijuana is illegal. But, according to the Tribune, the Texas Department of Public Safety claims that, over the past five years, a whopping 379,000 Texans have been arrested for possessing two ounces or less of marijuana.

The Tribune specified the nature of some of the specific legislative proposals that are being debated in the current session of the Texas Legislature:

Lawmakers this year are pushing a bevy of bills that range from reducing the criminal penalties for those found with small amounts of marijuana to eliminating those criminal penalties altogether. But there remains some lingering political pushback from conservative hardliners and law enforcement groups who fear decriminalizing marijuana will increase crime rates and eventually lead to the legalization of other drugs. ...

[S]tate Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, filed House Bill 63. His bill would replace the criminal penalty for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana and replace it with a civil fine of up to $250. Only those fined more than three times would face misdemeanor criminal charges.

Elsewhere in Texas, local district attorneys are engaging in marijuana-driven prosecutorial discretion decisions, notwithstanding any independent actions that the Texas Legislature may or may not take in the current session. For example, the Tribune notes that new Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has instituted a policy of declining prosecution for first-time marijuana possession offenders.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, ten states and Washington, D.C. have legalized some amount of marijuana for personal use. California is the largest state to fully legalize some amount of marijuana possession. In total, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 22 states and Washington, D.C. have all decriminalized some amount of marijuana.

Notwithstanding the opposition from some law enforcement groups, decriminalization measures in Texas, perhaps the nation's most iconic red state, could potentially pick up bipartisan momentum. Just last year, the official platform for the Republican Party of Texas endorsed marijuana decriminalization. Forbes reported last June:

Delegates at the Republican Party of Texas convention on Saturday voted to approve platform planks endorsing marijuana decriminalization, medical cannabis and industrial hemp. They are also calling for a change in cannabis's classification by the federal government.

"We support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time," reads one of the party's new positions.

"Congress should remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1," says another.

The Texas Legislature meets for 140 calendar days every two years. The Texas 86th legislative session began on January 8, 2019 and runs through May 27, 2019. With such bread-and-butter fiscal issues as property tax reform taking up a lot of legislators' time, it remains to be seen whether legislators might be able to ultimately find the time to legislatively address such secondary issues as marijuana decriminalization.

 
 
 

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