This week, State Representative Joe Moody pre-filed House Bill 81, a proposal that would decriminalize marijuana in Texas. Under the bill, people caught with up to an ounce of marijuana would be given a $250 civil fine as opposed to being incarcerated or charged with a misdemeanor. Texas marijuana decriminalization would save the state an enormous amount in resources and protect those whose lives would be ruined or damaged by getting a criminal record for such a minor, nonviolent crime. Moody released a statement saying, “This bill is about good government and efficient use of resources. Arrests and criminal prosecutions of low-level marijuana cases distract law enforcement and prosecutors, leaving fewer resources for violent crime.”
The Current Unusable Bill
Texas began making steps forward in marijuana reform in 2015 when a medical marijuana bill was approved. The bill was more of a symbolic gesture of approval as it was designed in such a way that made it impossible to implement. Firstly, only a very limited amount of conditions qualify for treatment, including severe seizures and cancer. Secondly, it requires doctors to “prescribe” marijuana, as opposed to “recommend” it like other states. It is federally illegal to prescribe marijuana, which makes it impossible for doctors to approve patients for treatment. The first dispensaries are supposed to open in 2017, although the bill in its current form will need to be amended in order to be usable.
The Necessity for Texas Marijuana Decriminalization
Nonetheless, there has been a slow but present growing change in attitude towards marijuana. In the state with some of the harshest marijuana laws in the country, legislators are starting to question the current laws. Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project has noticed the shift and she said that “more lawmakers are finally asking, ‘Wait, why are we wasting police and prosecutors’ resources on people caught with nothing more than a joint? They’re asking why patients are fleeing the state for places where they can get the treatment they need.'”
Wasting Resources on Small Amounts of Marijuana
State Representative Jason Isaac is one of the legislators who has been asking these questions. When a Texas marijuana decriminalization proposition was presented and failed in 2015, Isaac did not support measure. Since then, he has changed his mind, telling the Texas Tribune that it is about time the issue was revisited, as a lot of money, time and resources are going towards arresting, charging, prosecuting and jailing individuals for a harmless crime. The latest statistics indicate that 97 percent of people arrested for marijuana possession in Texas are for very small amounts.
The measure will be brought to session in early 2017. It’s unclear what direction things will take, but Texas marijuana decriminalization is an important issue to discuss again. The country as a whole has been moving towards ending prohibition. California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts have joined Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, Washington and D.C. in legalizing recreational marijuana for adult personal use. 28 states have legalized medical marijuana. A change in Texas law would help both the state and its residents.