• A bill seeking to decriminalise cannabis has been approved in Texas
  • Under the new proposals, those caught with an ounce of cannabis or less would receive a fine rather than a criminal punishment
  • The bill was passed by a vote of 98 to 43

Texas could become the 25th US State to relax laws surrounding cannabis, after their lawmakers approved a bill seeking to decriminalise cannabis on Monday, by a vote of 98-43.

The bill’s proposals include replacing criminal punishments for those caught with an ounce or less of cannabis with a $500 fine. Long-term criminal records will also be removed, provided those caught with cannabis follow terms of deferral assigned by judges, such as completing community service or attending drug education classes.

The new provisions would renew every year, meaning Texans can be caught with over an ounce once per year. The measure would also apply to possession of paraphernalia (which are entirely legal to possess in the UK).

The bill would also seek to establish a procedure to expunge those already convicted for cannabis offences, removing criminal records which have long been denounced for the devastating impact they have on people’s chances for future employment, housing, educational opportunities and the ability to maintain a driver’s license.

To get the bill past the House, Democratic Representative, Joseph Moody, the chief sponsor of the bill, made some last-minute amendments in order to win more support from colleagues. The earlier version included a lower fine of $250 and would have treated low-level possession as a civil infraction rather than a class C misdemeanour.

Texans have suffered under failing marijuana policies for far too long.”
– 
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy

Discussing the changes to the bill, Moody explained why compromise was needed to pass a bill seeking to decriminalise cannabis, a drug, in a deeply conservative state:

“Although this compromise isn’t as far as I’d like to go, I’m not going to sacrifice the good for the perfect.

“If this is what we can do, then this is what we must do.

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, commended the proposals in Moody’s bill, saying:

“Texans have suffered under failing marijuana policies for far too long.

“Rep. Moody’s bill will help preserve valuable public safety resources and keep a marijuana charge from derailing someone’s life.”

The Republican Governor for Texas, Greg Abbott, opposed legalising cannabis overall, but sees the merits in decriminalisation, especially in its impact on Texas’ swelling prison population:

“One thing I don’t want to see is jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana.

“I would be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for possession of two ounces or less from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class C misdemeanor.”

Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, added:

“This is a historic step forward in changing Texas’s current draconian marijuana laws.

“Now, we turn our sights to the Senate so that this important policy can make its way through the legislative gauntlet and start helping Texans.”

After being approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee last month, the bill will need to be approved by an additional House vote for third reading approval, which is expected to happen as soon as this week. The bill will become law after it is finally voted on by the Texan Senate.

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