Could marijuana possession soon be the equivalent of a traffic ticket? A Texas House member wants it that way. Current law dictates that anyone caught with under an ounce of marijuana is subject to being convicted of a class B misdemeanor which can equal jail time, but Democrat Rep. Harold Dutton of Houston would like to change that, dropping that criminal charge down to a Class C misdemeanor, which would be punishable by a fine similar to the average traffic ticket.
Dutton says, “Some people have asked me, Harold if we do this won’t it cause more people to smoke marijuana. My answer to them was we give people tickets for running a red light, I don’t think it encourages anyone to run a red light."
Testimony on Friday in favor of the bill ranged from marijuana advocacy groups to elderly Texans impassioned about the legislation, like 83-year old Ann Lee who points to a racial divide related to arrests statistics.
Lee says, "I grew up with the original Jim Crow in Louisiana. What do what we have today? The new Jim Crow! We talk about the people who are going to be arrested and going to jail. They're not us whites, although we use [marijuana] just as much as the African-Americans and Latinos, but those are the ones in prison.”
Several members on the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence indicate they’d be willing to vote for the bill if it only applied to minors, meaning anyone over the age of 21 would still be subject to jail time.
The bill was left pending before the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence.