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Texas legislators file bills aimed at decriminalizing marijuana

A handful of new states legalized marijuana on Election Day, so could Texas be next?

A handful of new states legalized marijuana on Election Day, so could Texas be next?

Newly elected Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg already plans to decriminalize the drug when she takes office.

“I want to send offenders for non-violent offences, especially marijuana, around jail. I don’t want them to pay bail. Most importantly, we don’t have people to have a permanent criminal record for a small offense that then stands in the way of future opportunity,” Ogg told KHOU 11 News on Election Day.

State lawmakers have already filed six new bills involving marijuana. Most involve decreasing punishments for people caught with small amounts of the drug.

  • House Bill 58 would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders to free up law enforcement and correction resources, according to the Texas Tribune.
  • House Bill 81 replaces criminal penalties with civil fines for offenders caught with up to an ounce of marijuana.
  • House Bill 82 would classify possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as a Class C misdemeanor instead of a Class B misdemeanor.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 17 proposes voters decide if they want to legalize pot.
  • Senate Joint Resolution 18 proposes voters decide if they want to legalize pot for medical use.
  • The Texas Tribune reports Senate Bill 170 would also change possession of a small amount of weed from a criminal offense to a civil offense.

Drug policy expert Katharine Neill thinks the recent legalization of marijuana in several states has created momentum for change in Texas.

“We have to wait and see how republican leadership is going to respond to that and whether there’s going to be a lot of resistance to that kind of change,” said Neill, Postdoctoral Fellow in Drug Policy at the Baker Institute at Rice University.

Neill explained current pot penalties in Texas don’t match the severity of the crime.

She says she is a believer in legalizing marijuana, especially when it comes to medical use.

“I think we have a good chance of seeing some reform happen this session," she said.

Groups in favor of legalizing the drug are already rallying support for the new proposals.

“We encourage everyone to contact your representatives and tell them to support House Bill 81, Senate Joint Resolution Number 17 and 18. This would put it on the ballot for voters to decide, which is important because that would also open up a lot more public discourse and discussion about the issue," said Jason Miller, communications director for NORML. "The question isn’t whether Texas should legalize marijuana, it’s when is it going to happen and what is it going to look like in terms of the regulatory framework and the licensing."

However, others aren’t so sure S.J.R. 17 and 18 will ever make it on a ballot.

“I think both would have a decent chance of passing if voters were allowed to decide. Whether or not voters will be given that option, I think that’s the big question here," Neill said. "I think that’s something we’re going to have to wait and see how this plays out. I do imagine there will be some opposition to that."

KHOU 11 News asked Governor Greg Abbott for a response to the proposed legislation.

Press Secretary John Wittman said, “Governor Abbott opposes the legalization of marijuana in the State of Texas.”

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