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Texas Lawmakers Hope to Reduce Penalties for Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana in 2017

Published: Feb 10, 2017 in Drug Crimes

Recreational and medical marijuana have gradually become more accepted and common around the country. However, in Texas, many legislators and residents still take a harsh view on the drug. Texas currently allows extremely limited medical marijuana, while recreational use is entirely prohibited. As marijuana remains illegal for personal use, law enforcement must spend a great deal of time and funds on arresting low-level offenders. Ultimately, this leads to an unnecessarily heavy caseload for local criminal justice systems.

In an attempt to lighten the load, Rep. Joe Moody, D-EL Paso, has sponsored a bill that greatly reduces the penalty for a first-time marijuana possession charge. By turning a small amount of marijuana into a civil infraction, Texas could reduce the number of low-level, non-violent offenders in court and jail. However, even if this bill passes in 2017, anyone caught with a significant amount of marijuana will face serious drug charges and need a Houston drug lawyer like Ned Barnett.

Texas Courts Are Inundated With Possession Charges

Marijuana is responsible for more than half of all drug charges in Texas, and simple possession makes up almost all of the marijuana-related charges. According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations, 700,000 Texas residents were arrested for marijuana possession in 2013. Other year’s marijuana possession charges closely resemble this figure as well. While some of these individuals may have controlled a significant amount of the drug, most of them could have avoided court or jail if possession were a civil offense or diversion programs were available.

House Bill 81

Under HB 81, Rep. Moody calls for the removal of the state’s current criminal penalties for possessing less than 1 ounce of marijuana and seeks to replace them with a civil citation and a fine. Possessing 1 ounce of marijuana or less would become a non-criminal offense, punishable by a $250 fine. This is a far cry from the current procedure, which charges possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana as a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

House Bill 58

A related bill, HB 58, calls for the creation of a Marijuana Possession court. This specialty court would handle first-time offenders and deploy a first chance intervention program. The court would be able to take a close look at the defendant and determine an appropriate punishment for the infraction or low-level offense. The first chance intervention program would be 60 to 90 days long and include both community service and education.

Contact a Houston Marijuana Possession Lawyer

While many believe this bill makes a lot of sense and could free up Texas’ police and court resources for more serious offenses, it is still only a prospective change to the law. Recreational marijuana remains entirely illegal throughout Texas. If you are caught possessing or using marijuana without a lawful medical reason, you will face serious drug charges.

For a better understanding of what you are up against, contact the Law Offices of Ned Barnett at (713) 222-6767.