Across the country, the attitude towards marijuana is changing—both among citizens and lawmakers. While almost 20 states have medical marijuana laws in place, two have legalized recreational marijuana and several others have pending legislation addressing both these areas. But, where does Texas stand in the world of marijuana legalization?
You don’t have to be a cop, an attorney, or even a pot smoker to know that attitudes towards marijuana in Texas are relatively conservative. Officials see the illegal drug trade as being responsible for crime and immigration issues in the state. But, there are indications that attitudes are changing.
According to The Daily Chronic, 80,000 people are arrested in Texas each year for marijuana crimes. About 97% of those arrests are for possession alone. By lessening the penalties for possession, Texas officials would be better able to focus on things that should concern them more, like violent crimes.
One such bill, HB 184, has passed committee and is headed to legislators. The bill would decrease penalties for first time marijuana offenders under the age of 21. Currently, a first time possession charge of one ounce or less carries a Class B misdemeanor designation and a potential for 180 days in jail and $2,000 in fines. If the law passes, young first time offenders would face a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time.
While it may not seem like much, it’s a step in the right direction.
“While this is a small step in the process of legalization in Texas, it speaks volumes to the winds of change in our state,” said a statement from Texas NORML. “This is an amazing step for Texas.”
On the medical marijuana front, House Bill 594 was set to be voted on in committee this week. While the Texas legislature hasn’t updated its status, there are indications it was allowed to die. Still, it’s presence and it’s support could indicate changing tides.
The bill would have allowed people facing marijuana charges to use a medical condition and doctor’s recommendation as a defense against that charge. In other words, if you use marijuana for disease or illness treatment, and your doctor recommends it, that could help you get any resulting criminal charges dismissed in court.
When it comes to policies that lessen crime penalties for any offense, Texas is often a little behind. But progress is progress and these two bills could signal changes yet to come.