In 2012 alone, about 70,000 Texans were arrested or received citations for posessing marijuana, which is a plant that is as toxic as Play-Doh. And according to a recent poll, most voters in the state are ready for more sensible drug policies—ones that regulate marijuana the way alcohol is regulated and don’t fill prisons with low-income Texans and people of color who haven’t committed violent crimes.
Yesterday, State Rep. Joe Moody from El Paso announced legislation that would take Texas one step closer toward decriminalization by reducing penalties for marijuana possession. Under current laws, getting caught with less than two ounces of marijuana can lead to a criminal record, a $2,000 fine, and up to a six month jail sentence.
Rep. Moody’s bill, which is supported by the ACLU of Texas, Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project, would reduce that penalty to a $100 fine for possession of less than one ounce of weed.
Although similar policies have failed in the state legislature in the past, support for decriminalization has been building on both sides of the aisle. Even Rick Perry has expressed support for less harsh possession penalties. Abbott, on the other hand, has said that he would support status quo drug policies.
According to Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy:
Representative Moody announced the details of the bill at a news conference hosted by Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. He was joined by retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney and representatives from the coalition including ACLU of Texas, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project.
“Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working,” Rep. Moody said. “We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction.”
The proposed law would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of $100. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“The War on Marijuana is a failure and has needlessly ensnared hundreds of thousands of people in the criminal justice system, at tremendous human and financial cost,” says Matthew Simpson, policy strategist for the ACLU of Texas. “It’s time to implement reforms that are fairer, more compassionate, and smarter at reducing drug dependency and improving our health and safety.”
According to the FBI, there were 72,150 arrests or citations for marijuana-related offenses in Texas in 2012, 97% of which were for simple possession. That same year, nearly 90% of all burglaries — including home invasions — and 88% of all motor vehicle thefts went unsolved.
“Giving a ticket for small amounts of marijuana makes sense,” Judge Delaney said. “The fine can be paid by mail, so police, prosecutors, and our courts will be able to use their limited resources for more important matters.”