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Texas Legislature Considers New Marijuana Law That Would Make Punishment for Marijuana Possession of One Ounce or Less a $500 Fine With No Jail Time

The Texas Legislature is in session right now and one thing that is being considered by the lawmakers this year is a new law proposed by Representative Harold V. Dutton, Jr., an attorney from Houston, that would change longstanding marijuana laws here in Texas.

The bill, HR 184, was considered in a public hearing before the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on March 12, 2013, where anyone who was interested could show up to Room 16 in the basement level of the Texas State Capitol there in downtown Austin and hear the arguments being made pro and con for the passage of this new marijuana crime law.  Reports are that lots of people showed up.

HR 184 Changes Marijuana Laws to Remove Jail Time for Small Possession Convictions

After the hearing, the bill remains alive in at the Committee Level.   HR 184 has got a long road to travel:  first, HR 184 must get the approval of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee to proceed to consideration via a full House vote. Once the House votes approval, the proposed law will need first Senate Committee approval and thereafter a full Senate vote before finally reaching the Governor’s desk for signature (he could sign or veto).

During this journey through the statehouse and the Governor’s Office, the current text of HR 184 may change, but the spirit of the proposed bill will remain the same: to change the laws governing marijuana in the State of Texas.

Will it succeed?  Too soon to tell, but it’s surviving right now and there are a lot of marijuana supporters out there that are pushing legislators to vote yes for HR 184.

Image: Small amount of marijuana, Wikimedia Commons | public domain

What HR 184 Will Do If It Becomes Law

If the bill is passed essentially as the text of the bill is currently written, then anyone arrested in Texas for an ounce of marijuana would not face jail time as a punishment.  Instead, the crime would be much more palatable for marijuana users:  under HR 184, those arrested, charged, and convicted of possessing 1 oz. of marijuana would be fined $500.00 — there wouldn’t be any jail time involved in punishment.

You can read the full text of the proposed marijuana law, HR 184, online here. In essence, the bill seeks to change the crime of possessing small amounts of marijuana ( 1 oz or less) in Texas to a Class C misdemeanor.

What happens now? Under current Texas law, anyone who is found guilty of possessing 1 ounce of marijuana in the State of Texas faces a fine of up to $2000 and jail time up to 180 days (6 months).   It’s a Class B misdemeanor in the State of Texas to possess marijuana in the amount of 1 ounce or less.

Exceptions Remain in Proposed New Law

There are exceptions, however.  Under the new proposed law, some folk would still face significant jail time for a small amount of pot – it will remain a Class B misdemeanor for those who have prior convictions on their record of possessing marijuana or synthetic marijuana within the previous 24 months before the current conviction.

As stated in the pending bill text:

(c) An offense under Subsection (b)(1) is a Class B misdemeanor if it is shown on the trial of the offense that the defendant has been previously convicted three or more times of an offense involving the possession of marihuana or a synthetic cannabinoid and each prior offense was committed within the 24-month period preceding the date of the commission of the instant offense. For purposes of this subsection, “offense involving the possession of marihuana or a synthetic cannabinoid” means an offense under this section or Section 481.121 or an offense under the laws of another state that contains elements substantially similar to the elements of an offense under either of those sections.

There are Strong Arguments being made for Passing HR 184 and Making Possession of 1 ounce (or less) a Class C Misdemeanor

Right now, there are forces moving to get HR184 passed based upon the obvious marijuana decriminalization platforms, like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) which is asking its followers to contact their state lawmakers and voice their approval of HR 184’s passage (for details, read the March 9th NORML blog post on HR 184).

According to the Texas branch of NORML, around 70% of all marijuana possession arrests in Texas would be impacted here: most marijuana arrests in Texas involve police arresting people for having an ounce or less of marijuana in their possession. It’s a big deal, this proposed change in Texas law, from a marijuana decriminalization standpoint.

However, there are other forces moving to make HR 184 the law of the Lone Star State that come solely from fiscal concerns. During the March 12th hearing on the proposed legislation, there was a lot of testimony devoted to the costs of keeping marijuana possession a Class B Misdemeanor — and many were interested in how much money the State of Texas could save (LOTS) if this one, small bill were made into the official law of the land.

Money always talks, but it speaks with a particularly loud voice these days, in this economy.  Will Texans be able to carry a joint in their pocket and face only a $500 fine if caught, instead of 6 months in jail and up to $2000 in a fine?   Too soon to tell, but lots of people are keeping their fingers crossed.

Track HR 184’s Progress

If you’re interested, you can track the progress of HR 184 up in Austin at the official Texas Legislative web page for tracking pending legislation (here).

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