AUSTIN, Texas — Testimonies for a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana were heard during a public hearing Monday at the Texas State Legislature.
Among those supporting the bill were a judge and a marijuana activist from Hewitt.
"This bill is a great bill to support, because it would actually take that criminal penalty down to a civil penalty where you just have to pay a fine," Karen Reeves of CenTex Community Outreach said. "And it has bipartisan support."
Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) filed the bill on Nov. 12, 2018, and it was referred to the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on Feb. 11.
Of the five listed sponsors of the bill, three are Republicans.
“Having Republicans on this bill is nothing new," Moody said. "But having Republicans seek me out and saying they want to sign on or help me with my bill, that is new.”
Reeves' testimony was largely about her son's story.
She said Alex Reeves was arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time while on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps. The incident has affected his ability to get work and move out on his own.
“Currently he’s not able to pass a background check, he’s not able to move forward with his life," Reeves said. "People that get arrested for minor possession become stagnant in life.”
The bill would amend several sections of the state's Health and Safety Code.
People possessing up to an ounce of marijuana would face "civil penalty" fines up to $250, instead of a class B misdemeanor. However, if a court found the person to be "indigent," or poor, it could waive the penalty and order the person to complete no more than 10 hours of community service.
“I’m back for the third time because I still believe this is good legislation that needs to pass," Brazos County Senior District Judge John Delaney said.
Even if the bill is passed, possessing between an ounce to 4 ounces of marijuana would lead to misdemeanor charges.
The bill has its critics though.
Several people from different law enforcement departments attended the hearing to speak out against the bill, saying they fear it will legalize the drug.
“We believe that the law as it is today is working," Grand Prairie Police Department Assistant Chief Ronnie Morris said. "Officers are given the discretion that they need to take enforcement action as they see fit on the street. It’s working, we’re not needlessly putting people through the criminal justice system.”
Morris said he has heard warnings from other departments in other states to avoid legalizing marijuana in Texas.
Moody reiterated that possession in the state would remain illegal, as HB-63 strictly addresses punishment.
"This is an important issue," Moody said. "It doesn't matter if you're a Republican or a Democrat, these laws impact people across the board."
The bill was the final item on the agenda for the committee's public hearing Monday.
- Decriminalizes possession of marijuana, up to 1 ounce
- Decriminalizes possession of marijuana paraphernalia
- If you do have an ounce or less on you, you can be fined up to $250
- This would be considered a "civil penalty" meaning it won't be considered a conviction for any purpose
- Individuals cannot appeal these civil penalties
- this information is confidential
- After three civil penalties, the fourth time you're found with an ounce or less of marijuana, it would be a Class C misdemeanor
- Admitting use, possession or delivery of paraphernalia would be a defense against prosecution
- Police officers would issue a citation instead of arresting people for possession of small amounts of marijuana
- Courts cannot issue an arrest warrant or make someone post bail for possession of small amounts of marijuana
- Law enforcement may seize any marijuana a person possesses
Read the full bill below:
The committee left the bill as pending Monday night.
If passed, the bill would take effect on Sept. 1, 2019.