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Legal Marijuana in Texas: Will HB507 Legalize Small Amounts of Pot Statewide? It Just May Happen.

Last month right before the holiday break Texas State Representative Joe Moody filed a new bill in the Texas House, HB 507, that looks to have a pretty big chance of success in changing Texas marijuana laws.

HB 507, if it becomes state law, will make possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in the State of Texas to be a civil offense carrying a fine of $100.00.

If Passed, HB 507 Makes Small Amount of Marijuana a Civil Offense, Not a Crime

This law would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of pot in Texas. It would no longer be a crime to have less than 1 ounce of pot in your possession. You would not be arrested for marijuana possession if a police officer found a small amount of grass in your purse or a joint in your pocket.  Instead, you would be issued something akin to a traffic ticket and you would face a small fine.

It would be effective on September 1, 2015.

 

This is a big, big deal for the State of Texas. Historically, Texas has been fierce on keeping any amount of marijuana a criminal violation. See, “Texas Marijuana Laws: Strict Drug Laws Now As Marijuana Is Absolutely Illegal In Texas, But Will This Change And Can You Still Be Arrested For Pot In Texas?

The federal government has a similar attitude toward marijuana. For details on their reasoning for marijuana needing to be against the law, see the Drug Enforcement Administration report, “2014 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary.

However, despite the longstanding government stance towards marijuana, the reality is that pot is popular and the authorities recognize that not only is marijuana not going away, it seems to be increasing in popularity particularly among young people:

From the DEA Report:

National level survey data show an increase in marijuana abuse among adolescents. The 2013 MTF reported more than one-third (36.4%) of 12th graders used marijuana in the past year, an 11 percent increase over the past five years. MTF survey data also showed an increase in annual marijuana use for 10th and 8th graders. (See Table B5 in Appendix B.) More than one-quarter (29.8%) of 10th graders reported using marijuana in the past year, an increase of 12 percent from 2009; and 12.7 percent of 8th graders reported using marijuana in the past year, an increase of 8 percent over the past five years.

Surprising Support for HB 507, Like The Police

Not only is pot a popular product, there have been polls taken here in Texas that show that Texans are okay with legalizing small amounts of marijuana and decriminalizing little amounts of pot, like less than one ounce, here in Texas.  The Fort Worth Star Telegram has also published an op-ed in support of this bill. 

Another surprising group that may be okay with HB 507 is local law enforcement. There have already been successful efforts in parts of Texas to help police and county sheriffs’ departments from spending their limited time and money on small marijuana possession busts in specific areas. Like Houston. And Dallas.  See, “Dallas County Marijuana Arrests: In 2015, Dallas Police Not Busting For Pot.

 Civil Penalty for Small Amount of Pot

From a criminal defense perspective, if this becomes law then small amounts of pot would not be a CRIME. This means someone who is caught with a joint or small amount of marijuana today faces arrest and a criminal record. That stays with them unless they succeed in getting an expungement.

This can impact someone’s scholarships, financial aid, employment options, and more. If HB507 becomes law, then criminal defense lawyers would lose some business. And that’s fine — because turning this crime into a civil offense where a fine is paid will help lots of people and their futures.

For more information, see our resources page on Drug Crimes.

Follow the progress of this proposed law online here.  Here is the full text of the proposed legislation:

H.B. No. 507

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
AN ACT
relating to a civil penalty for possession of certain small amounts of marihuana and an exception to prosecution for possession of associated drug paraphernalia.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:

SECTION 1. Section 481.121(b), Health and Safety Code, is amended to read as follows:
(b) An offense under Subsection (a) is:
(1) a Class B misdemeanor if the amount of marihuana possessed is two ounces or less but more than one ounce;
(2) a Class A misdemeanor if the amount of marihuana possessed is four ounces or less but more than two ounces;
(3) a state jail felony if the amount of marihuana possessed is five pounds or less but more than four ounces;
(4) a felony of the third degree if the amount of marihuana possessed is 50 pounds or less but more than 5 pounds;
(5) a felony of the second degree if the amount of marihuana possessed is 2,000 pounds or less but more than 50 pounds; and
(6) punishable by imprisonment in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for life or for a term of not more than 99 years or less than 5 years, and a fine not to exceed $50,000, if the amount of marihuana possessed is more than 2,000 pounds.

SECTION 2. Subchapter D, Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, is amended by adding Section 481.1211 to read as follows:

Sec. 481.1211. CIVIL PENALTY: POSSESSION OF SMALL AMOUNT OF MARIHUANA. (a) A person who knowingly or intentionally possesses a usable quantity of marihuana in an amount that is one ounce or less is liable to the state for a civil penalty not to exceed $100.
(b) The imposition of a civil penalty under this section is not a conviction and may not be considered a conviction for any purpose.
(c) A peace officer may not make an arrest solely because of a violation of this section. A peace officer shall issue to a person who violates this section a citation that contains written notice of the time and place the person must appear before a justice court, the name and address of the person charged, and the civil violation charged.
(d) The district or county attorney of the county in which the conduct described by Subsection (a) is alleged to have occurred shall bring an action in the justice court of the county to collect the civil penalty of a person who receives a citation under this section.
(e) The court may waive or reduce the civil penalty if:
(1) the person subject to a civil penalty under this section attends a program that provides education in substance abuse and is approved by the Department of State Health Services or the Texas Department of Public Safety; or
(2) the person performs not more than 10 hours of community service, as recommended by the court.
(f) Law enforcement shall seize any marihuana in possession of a person subject to a civil penalty under this section and preserve the marihuana as if the marihuana were evidence of an offense under this chapter pending the final resolution of a civil proceeding under this section and any available appeal. After final resolution of the civil proceeding and any available appeal, any marihuana seized is subject to forfeiture and shall be disposed of in accordance with Section 481.159.
(g) The identity of a person cited or found liable for a civil penalty under this section is confidential information under Section 552.101, Government Code.

SECTION 3. Section 481.125, Health and Safety Code, is amended by adding Subsection (g) to read as follows:

(g) It is an exception to the application of this section that drug paraphernalia was knowingly or intentionally used, possessed, or delivered solely in furtherance of a violation of Section 481.1211.

SECTION 4. The changes in law made by this Act apply only to a violation of law that occurs on or after the effective date of this Act. A violation that occurs before the effective date of this Act is governed by the law in effect on the date the violation occurred, and the former law is continued in effect for that purpose. For purposes of this section, a violation of law occurred before the effective date of this Act if any element of the violation occurred before that date.

SECTION 5. This Act takes effect September 1, 2015.


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