A Texas House committee approved a bill that would decriminalize cannabis possession, on top of another measure to reduce penalties for marijuana concentrate possession.
The decriminalization legislation – HB 441 – would reclassify possession of up to one ounce of cannabis as a class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine but without the possibility of jail time.
Unlike other decriminalization measures considered by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, the approved bill includes a provision that would prohibit police officers from arresting individuals for low-level cannabis possession. This is crucial as Texas law enforcement is currently able to arrest and hold people for class C offenses even though such charges don’t carry the threat of jail time. Other provisions in HB 441, sponsored by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D), include one to ensure possession of one ounce or less of marijuana doesn’t result in an individual losing their driver’s license or ending up with a criminal record.
During the drawn out hearing of the marijuana-related bills, committee members also voted to advance a measure that would reduce the penalties for possessing up to two ounces of marijuana concentrates to a class B misdemeanor.
These are the latest steps in what has been a flurry of activity in recent months regarding Texas marijuana reform. Lawmakers prefiled more than a dozen marijuana-related bills ahead of this legislative session, including two that would legalize adult-use cannabis. Meanwhile, the House Public Health Committee approved a bill to expand Texas’s medical cannabis program by increasing the THC limit from 0.5 percent to 5 percent, adding a raft of new qualifying conditions, and empowering the Department of State Health to add more conditions to the list as it sees fit.
These are promising signs that the Texas legislature, historically resistant to marijuana reform efforts, is warming up to the idea. In 2019, the House of Representatives voted in favor of a marijuana decriminalization bill but it didn’t gain any traction in the Senate. In an interview with KTRK-TV earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Lt. Gov Dan Patrick downplayed the possibility of broader legalization moves and instead suggested he would be more open to medical cannabis reforms. Where Patrick will stand on a marijuana decriminalization bill remains to be seen.
“We’re always listening on the health issues, but we’re not going to turn this into California where anybody can get a slip from the doctor and go down to some retail store and say, ‘You know, I got a headache today so I need marijuana,’ because that’s just a veil for legalizing it for recreational use,” he said.
As for Texas voters, they’ve evolved on the issue considerably in a relatively short period of time. Various polls in recent years have found majority support for full cannabis legalization, with a University of Texas and Texas Tribune survey reporting 60 percent backing the move. As recently as 2010, support for the measure only stood at 42 percent.