Texas lawmakers consider bill to reduce marijuana penalties

AUSTIN, TX - The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee heard public testimony Monday on House Bill 81, a bill that would decriminalize the use and possession of small quantities of marijuana.

Right now Texas law says someone found with less than two ounces of marijuana can face up to six months in jail, as well as  a fine of up to $2,000.

Under HB-81, people would avoid jail time if they are caught with up to one ounce of marijuana. Instead, they’d receive a fine of up to $250.

“My son was a Marine, a Lance Corporal,” Kareen Reeves said, “and he was only home for a short time when he was stripped of his title.”

Reeves says her son Alex was stripped of his title in 2015 and is now facing criminal charges. Alex was riding in a car with a friend who was caught with marijuana. Reeves testified on Monday in favor of House Bill 81.

“If it was less than an ounce, my son would have been given a ticket and given the option to pay hopefully around a $250 fine and do a class for education,” Reeves said. “And he wouldn't have a criminal record like he has now for the rest of his life.”

Law enforcement groups were split on the bill during Monday's hearing.

“Major crimes are being neglected across the board,” Dr. John Hall, a retired Houston police officer said. “Major crimes have not been addressed because of the marijuana arrests, which puts officers spend a great deal of time on the streets, and that time on the streets prevents them from spending time on some of the other major crimes.”

Hall told committee members that under the current law, the punishment is too severe, and takes police away from major crimes.

Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback says opposes the bill. He says it is part of law enforcement's job to deal with narcotics and drugs, and argues the proposal is one step toward legalization of marijuana in Texas.

“The Sheriffs Association of Texas are opposed until there is a better plan,” Louderback said. “We know of no better plan that exists now than opposition to this simply because we're on the front lines fighting. The reality is narcotics and drugs play a major role in what we do.”

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety there were 61,749 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015, and more than 418,000 arrests from 2010 to 2015.


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