The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee voted 9-0 on Tuesday to advance a bipartisan bill that would end arrests and jail time for low-level possession of cannabis, and would also allow citizens to erase similar cannabis arrests from their criminal records retroactively.
“Basically, the person is given a ticket, goes to court, they’re assessed a fine, then the court tells them, ‘You’ve got six months to pay and you need to stay out of trouble during that time,” said State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, during a hearing last week.
Marijuana Moment’s Tom Angell first broke the story Wednesday and reported that the action comes after the panel heard testimony on the measure at a hearing over the previous week.
Moody authored the legislation, known as House Bill 218, and he chairs the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
As the bill is currently written, HB 218 would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, removing the risk of jail time. Instead, it would result in a maximum fine of $500.
Existing law classifies possession of small amounts of the drugs as a Class B misdemeanor, which carries penalties of up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.
“The bill also specifies that possession of up to two ounces of cannabis would not result in an arrest, meaning violators would be cited and released. Further, individuals with possession convictions for up to two ounces of marijuana could seek to have those convictions expunged through a court process for a $30 fee,” Angell wrote.
The Texas House passed similar proposals to decriminalize marijuana during the 2019 and 2021 legislative sessions, but both bills were essentially dead on arrival in the Texas Senate where conservatives such as Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the chamber, have historically opposed such legislation.
But Moody’s HB 218 pulls the elements of both previous bills into one bill, according to Angell. And while the new bill will face additional scrutiny from Texas lawmakers in the coming months of the current legislative session, the House Calendars Committee is now set to schedule floor action on the bill.
According to a University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll in December, roughly 72 percent of Texas voters support decriminalizing marijuana, while only 17 percent said it should not be legalized.
Decriminalization activists have succeeded in reforming policies at the municipal level in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos, as voters passed marijuana decriminalization in November. San Antonio is set to decide on a similar ballot initiative in May, according to Angell.
Some conservative House members will likely oppose the bill despite the potential impact that would likely ease the criminal court’s caseloads, allowing the state justice system to pursue crimes directly impacting public safety. But the more moderate Republicans and Democrats may be able to successfully approve the bill.
Since the 1970s, studies have found that decriminalizing and/or legalizing cannabis results in fewer cannabis-related arrests, and there is no evidence to suggest a causal relationship between cannabis reform efforts and increases in other drug-related arrests.
On the medical marijuana front, the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) treats Texans for a variety of conditions such as epilepsy, autism, cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Monday, the House Public Health Committee will hear testimony regarding the long-anticipated House Bill 1805, which would increase the limit of THC to five percent — an increase of four percent from current limits. The bill was authored by state Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who has a background in nursing.