AUSTIN (Nexstar) — A bill that could reduce penalties for the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, originally scheduled for a vote on Thursday, has been delayed until next week.
An amended version of House Bill 63, filed by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would change possession of an ounce or less of marijuana to a Class C misdemeanor. The original version would’ve downgraded low-level marijuana possession from a criminal penalty to a civil one.
“I need to listen to the concerns of other people who are involved in this conversation who haven’t been in the past,” Moody said about the balance he must strike between changing original language of the bill and his desire to accomplish the goals he set forth in decriminalizing marijuana.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana policy, issued a statement in support of the legislation, saying:
“Texas arrests more than 60,000 people annually for the simple possession of marijuana. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of burglaries are cleared or solved in our state. Victims of real crime deserve a justice system that is dedicated to protecting life, liberty and property, not prosecuting people for marijuana.”
For people like Austin Zamhariri, who was arrested for marijuana possession back in 2010, this bill would help him get over several hurdles he’s faced since his arrest. He said he has had trouble landing jobs, finding suitable housing and receiving financial aid for college.
“It makes you feel like a criminal and there’s nothing different about me than any other Texan,” Zamhariri said. “There are thousands and thousands of Texans across the state who do not deserve to go to jail for a miniscule amount of marijuana.”
Under the legislation, a peace officer who is charging a person with possession of an ounce or less of marijuana may not arrest the individual and would have to issue a citation. The amendment also sets up a process for a person to plead guilty or no-contest and get placed on probation. After all probation requirements are met, the charges would be expunged from a person’s record.
Individuals charged would also be able to keep their driver’s licenses.
Groups against this effort include the Texas Police Chiefs Association and the Sheriff’s Association of Texas.
Moody said the changes made to the bill are a compromise.
“We did it in a way that alleviates major colateral consequences for offenders and also saves law enforcement resouces and time and prosecutors resources and time. So I think we achieve a lot of the same goals, using the same construct, to get it to that point.”
This week, the Texas House also passed a bill that allows farmers to grow hemp and legalizes hemp products in the state.