Marijuana Possession Bill Passed By Texas House Is Dead In The Senate

Chris Fox
April 30, 2019 - 11:07 am
Texas State Capitol Building

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AUSTIN (KRLD) - The House passed El Paso State Representative Joe Moody’s bill by a vote of 98-43. Moody’s original bill would have reduced possession of the small amount of marijuana to a civil penalty but after meeting with Governor Abbott the bill was amended to instead reduce the criminal penalty to a Class C Misdemeanor, the same classification as a traffic violation.

Moody addressed the change on the State House floor saying, “The amendment you have in front of you now keeps a criminal penalty for personal use possession of marijuana instead of moving to a civil system. It just reduces the penalty and works to remove disproportionate collateral consequences as much as we’re able to within the criminal justice system.”

On the State House floor, Moody spoke of why he changed the legislation after meeting with Governor Abbott earlier Monday morning. “There’s still one signature that I have to think about…and just as I’ve worked with everyone else, today I’m prepared to work in the lanes the Governor has laid out to get this done.”

There was opposition to the bill.

State Representative Cecil Bell of Montgomery County said passing it was a slippery slope to legalizing marijuana use. He challenged Moody’s bill saying, “If you have money, you can afford to just use all the marijuana you want to, pay your ticket go on and take the next ticket…basically legalizing it for those folks that have enough money to have it be legal.” Moody responded saying, “I would say that the criminal justice system as a whole benefits the wealthy and disproportionately impacts the poor. This bill tries to fix that by not hanging up poor people, mostly black and brown kids with convictions that haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

In Moody’s final pitch to his State House colleagues before the 2nd reading vote, he said the bill isn’t designed to legalize marijuana use. “This bill is simply saying we’re not going to lock up 75,000 Texans a year for this low-level offense and we’re not going to spend three-quarters of a billion dollars every year at the local taxpayer level in enforcing these offenses.”

The bill has no traction in the Texas Senate. Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair, John Whitmire of Houston told the Observer, "I try not to bring issues that are going to be time-consuming if they're not going to get support.” The bill would need to make it through that committee in order to get to a vote by the full Senate. 

Lt Governor Dan Patrick doubled-down on Whitmire’s comments tweeting:

“Criminal Justice Chair @Whitmire_John is right that #HB 63 is dead in the @Texas Senate.  I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”

Bill Summary:

  • Possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would be a Class C Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $500, but no arrest or jail time.

  • Upon payment of fine and plea of no contentre (or guilty), a case may be automatically deferred once a year, allowing the individual to avoid a criminal record if the judge’s orders are followed (completing community service and/or drug education course).

  • Dismissed cases may be expunged and do not affect an individual’s drivers license.

  • Dismissed cases would not generate a criminal record, which can follow a person for life and jeopardize employment prospects, housing, and educational opportunities.

  • The bill would not legalize or even decriminalize marijuana — it would simply change the penalty.