While Texas has a reputation for being a roughneck state where getting caught with even a joint can result in a devious level of pistol-whip prosecution with dire consequences, these Old West policies could soon be a thing of the past with the recent introduction of bill aimed at decriminalizing marijuana in the Lone Star State.
Representative Joe Moody submitted a proposal to the state legislature that, if passed, would strip away the criminal penalties associated with the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and replace them with a $100 fine. Moody, who announced the filing of House Bill 507, stood alongside a backbone council of state marijuana activists, including members of the ACLU and the Marijuana Policy Project, while proclaiming the time has come for Texas to get serious about changing the way it handles pot-related offenses.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” he said. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
As it stands, anyone caught in possession of up to 2 ounces of pot can be sentenced to six months in jail and receive a fine of $2,000. Supporters of decriminalization argue the measure is a simple approach to statewide pot reform that will keep thousands of people from being chewed up by the criminal justice system and, at the same time, allow the state to take a small step towards considering legal marijuana on a larger scale.
“Most Americans are fed up with laws that saddle people with criminal records just for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol,” said Heather Fazio, with the Texas chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Texas simply cannot afford to continue arresting and jailing people for marijuana possession.”
Although Texas approved a measure back in 2007 that allows individual municipalities to decriminalize marijuana with cite-and-release programs, most cities have continued to bust stoners simply because there hasn’t been enough support to make the change. Yet, recent polls indicate that 61 percent of Texas residents would like to see decriminalization efforts put into place, while 58 percent would support a measure to legalize a retail marijuana market similar to Colorado and Washington.
Unfortunately, the Lone Star State doesn’t appear to be anywhere near ready to head down the road to full legalization. In fact, drug policy experts say Texas is one of those “third tier” states in which the state government makes the possibility of legalizing weed a veritable pipe dream. Yet, Moody hopes he can rally the support of conservatives with liberal tendencies to help pass his decriminalization bill sometime in 2015.
Do you think Texas should decriminalize cannabis? What other states should decriminalize? Tell us in the comments.