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STEVE ELLIOTT

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A bill that would reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Texas is scheduled to receive a hearing Monday, March 13, in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

“I’m proud to present HB 81 to the committee and build on the bipartisan support it’s had from the very beginning,” said Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso). “This sort of reform crosses party lines because it’s a law enforcement issue, a business issue, a social justice issue, and a taxpayer issue we can be a lot smarter on. It’s time for Texas to take a nationwide lead on marijuana policy.”

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Rep. Joe Moody:
“It’s time for Texas to take a nationwide lead on marijuana policy”
[Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy]

HB 81, authored by Moody and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) with 35 co-authors, would remove the threat of arrest, jail time, and a criminal record for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $250. Under current Texas law, individuals found in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana can be arrested and given a criminal record, and they face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.

There were 61,749 marijuana possession arrests in Texas in 2015, and there were more than 418,000 from 2010-2015, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. These arrests and subsequent prosecution have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

texas john delaney HB 81 decriminalization
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John Delaney:
“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts, and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands”
[John Delaney]

“Passing HB 81 would free up police resources and relieve jails, courts, and taxpayers of substantial expense and time demands,” said retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney. “Each marijuana arrest uses about 2.5 hours of police time. With 60,000-70,000 people arrested in Texas annually, this is a significant amount of police time that could be devoted to patrolling residential neighborhoods and business locations and responding to emergency calls.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report in 2015, declaring it “strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana use” and encouraging pediatricians to “advocate for laws that prevent harsh criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.”

More than two-thirds of Texans (68 percent) support reducing the penalty for low-level marijuana possession to a citation and $250 fine, according to a June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll. Only 26 percent were opposed.

Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy will hold a pre-hearing media availability at 3:30 p.m. CT outside of Room E2.014 in the State Capitol. The hearing is expected to begin later in the afternoon.

Supporters of the bill who plan to participate in the media availability and testify at the committee hearing include retired Texas District Judge John Delaney; retired Houston Police Department Lt. Jay Hall; Baker Institute fellow Dr. William Martin; Texans for Accountable Government Executive Director Michael Cargill; Texas Young Republican Federation President John Baucum; and Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. The measure is also supported by the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas Association of Business.

 

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