In the most recent Texas Legislative session, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved House Bill 184. Thanks to the approval, Texas Legislators grew one-step closer to voting the bill into law. Originally, the bill proposed reducing the penalty for first-time offenders charged with possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a maximum fine of $500. The first-time marijuana offender would face a class C misdemeanor and no jail time. Prior to approving the bill however, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee amended the bill to apply only to individuals under the age of 21. While such change to the bill was unfortunate, it may have been a necessary compromise for the bill to receive approval from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
Even with the amendment, the approval of the bill is a sign of progress in a state where change in marijuana policy is desperately needed. Currently, under Texas law, the possession of one ounce (or less) of Marijuana is classified as a Class B criminal misdemeanor and is punishable by up to 180 days in jail with a $2,000 fine and a Driver’s License suspension. Each year in Texas, law enforcement arrests more than 80,000 individuals for marijuana violations. Of these arrested individuals, the state of Texas charges an estimated 97% solely for possession. Only an estimated 3% are charged with trafficking, cultivating, or selling marijuana. The cost for Texas to enforce marijuana laws and process offenders of such laws is more than $11 billion annually.
Since the landmark statewide legalization victories in Colorado and Washington in 2012, state legislators nationwide have ratcheted up attempts to reform senseless marijuana policies. For example, legislators have introduced medical marijuana bills, which have achieved some progress, in numerous states, including New Hampshire, Illinois, Ohio, and Maine. Legislators in the District of Colombia, and states including Vermont, Michigan, and Missouri are also considering marijuana decriminalization proposals. According to the Business Insider, eight more states could fully legalize marijuana this year. Texas Legislators should join the nationwide trend of reforming marijuana policies aspiring for less incarceration, increased government revenues, redirecting law enforcement resources to combating violent crimes, and curtailing profits for drug cartels and other criminal enterprises.