Texas Lawmakers Consider Decriminalizing Marijuana

HB-81 was filed by Texas State Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso

Texas lawmakers are discussing a bill that would decriminalize marijuana.

On Monday, the House Criminal Jurisprudence committee is holding a hearing on House Bill 81, which would eliminate the arrest, jail time and criminal record associated with the possession of a small amount of pot. [[290815791, R]]

Under HB-81, anyone caught with less than an ounce of marijuana would face a civil penalty "not to exceed $250" instead of being arrested or thrown in jail.

If passed, possession of small amounts of marijuana would no longer be a criminal offense.

The leader of the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws believes Texas is closer to making the law reality.

"I believe Texas is at a tipping point where we're seeing the rest of the country having a sensible marijuana policy,” Shaun McAlister said in January. "I believe after this session we will stop putting people in cages for possessing small amounts of this.”

But critics, like retired Texas Department of Public Safety narcotics agent Corky Schalchlin of Frisco, don’t see any changes coming.

"I just don't think it has the legs in Texas to stand,” Schalchlin said in January. “We go through this every couple years with the legislature."

Two years ago, Democratic Texas State Representative Joe Moody of El Paso's bill passed the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but never got a floor vote.

Eight states have now legalized marijuana possession. Some 28 allow it to be used for medicinal purposes.

Some experts say socially conservative Texas isn't quite ready to jump on the national trend just yet.

"I wouldn't hold your breath on it passing this year,” Bob Garrett, an Austin-based reporter for The Dallas Morning News said in January. “But momentum has slowly been building, I think, toward a legalization push."

Earlier this year in Harris County, the new district attorney announced she would no longer jail people who are caught with small amounts of pot.

Instead, first-time offenders will be put in a diversion program that includes fines, community service and drug education classes.

MORE: House Bill 81

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