With the flurry of news regarding cannabis legalization all over the United States and the rest of the world, it is easy to miss an important news story. Not with CannabizDaily.co around. For today, let us look back to 2017, when Texas took serious steps towards cannabis legalization.
In April 2017, the state’s House Committee has voted in favor of decriminalizing marijuana. The new bill could mean that people will be allowed to carry up to one ounce of marijuana and not be afraid of getting busted or jailed.
Before, having one ounce or less of cannabis can give you a 180-day jail sentence and fines of up to $2,000. You can also have your driver’s license suspended for six months. The new bill seeks to change all that by lowering the penalties to only $250 with no jail time. Instead, violators will undergo a drug education program or render community service.
Representative Joe Moody, the bill’s author and sponsor, said that Texas could gain $2 million with the initiative. Prosecuting people for minor possession has cost the state too much money, and with the decriminalization steps, they get to do away with these costs. There is also lost productivity because of the suspension of driver’s licenses. Civic engagement also suffers.
The bill almost had unanimous support. There was only one objection to the bill coming from Ector Country District Attorney Robert Bland. His objection was more on logistics, i.e. how would the police know if the amount carried is indeed an ounce or less.
Closing down racial disparities
Since most of the marijuana-related arrests in Texas involve African Americans, the state’s ACLU says that it will help narrow down racial disparities happening there. The number of arrests involving blacks in Texas is double the number of white people getting arrested for possessing marijuana, a trend that is reflected nationwide.
What happened since
The bad news is that very few things have happened ever since. The state senate still has not yet approved the House Bill, much less endorsed it to the governor for possible approval or veto. To say that the bill is at a standstill is an understatement.
The lack of development with regard to marijuana laws is typical of Texas. The only positive thing that has come from the state is that in December 1, 2017, Dallas started to issue citations to people caught possessing up to four ounces of marijuana, rather than arrest them. The penalties, however, are the same.
In other cities, rather than requiring people to pay bail, they would only have to pay personal recognizance bonds.
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The slow progress of the moves to decriminalize and eventually legalize marijuana use in Texas is somewhat disappointing and frustrating. While there are now states that have legalized even the recreational use of cannabis, Texas seems to be adamant in their backward way of thinking. Still, after a series of false starts and standstill, groups who are calling for marijuana law reform in the state are still hopeful.
Will the rest of 2018 and the next year bring better news? It all remains to be seen on whether the small reforms do work and if they do bring the benefits that their proponents are suggesting. If the state can see tremendous benefits in decriminalizing marijuana, as demonstrated in the cities that have done it, then maybe it could be nudged forward.
Another thing that could help is the positive experience of other states such as California and Colorado. Being able to demonstrate not only financial gains, but also being able to afford drug prevention programs as well as non-drugs-related programs such as infrastructure improvement, should help make Texas see the light.
We are not holding our breath though.