With Public Support, Texas Lawmaker Proposes Bill That Decriminalizes Marijuana Possession

Dec 16, 2014

El Paso Democratic Rep. Joe Moody and civil rights and marijuana advocates at the State Capitol
Credit Ryan E. Poppe

A member of the Texas House is using a 2013 study on how Texans view marijuana prohibition as the basis for a proposal to decriminalize the possession of the drug, used for both recreational and medicinal purposes, and drop criminal penalties associated with being caught with it.

Backed by civil rights advocates, criminal justice groups, some lawyers, judges and vocal marijuana activists, El Paso Democratic Rep. Joe Moody introduced a bill that proposes a change in the law, so that marijuana possession in Texas is no longer a criminal punishment but a civil penalty. Moody said current marijuana enforcement measures were “a money pit that is sucking law enforcement dry.”

 “We spend much more from policing pot than we do from fines; there’s about 70,000 arrests for marijuana possession in Texas, which accounts for 6.5 percent of all arrests, that puts the price tag for marijuana at roughly $734 million every single year,” said Moody.

The Executive Director for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Ana Yáñez-Correa, said a lot of money and lives were being thrown away because of the state’s current laws concerning marijuana. Yáñez-Correa added that Moody’s bill would save millions of dollars related to arrests, prosecution and indigent representation — those too poor to afford to pay for legal services — for the possession of marijuana.

“And quite frankly, this would also help minimize the horrible collateral consequences that people face once they do have a record, because if they have a record it’s real hard for them to get a job, it’s really hard from them to get housing,” said Yáñez-Correa.

A poll conducted by the Public Policy Polling group showed 58 percent of Texans supported decriminalizing marijuana possession for personal use. Moody’s bill would have police issuing a $100 ticket, similar to that of a traffic violation. Another bill authored by Houston Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton proposes that the criminal charges for possession of marijuana are dropped, so that jail time is no longer an option. 

Earlier this year, Abbott's campaign manager Matt Hirsch released this statement regarding Abbott's view on reforming Texas' current marijuana laws:

“Greg Abbott supports Texas’ current drug laws, and is supportive of diversionary and rehabilitative programs that have proven effective in Texas. His goal would be better enforcement and compliance without stocking prison beds with non-violent offenders. “He believes the best methods of combating illegal drug use includes a combination of medical treatment and criminal enforcement. Legalizing drugs would encourage drug use, which affects every sector of society, straining our economy, our health care and criminal justice systems, and endangering the lives of future generations.” 

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