Wednesday, March 06, 2019

TX marijuana reform news, notes, and questions

Grits' analysis of prospects for marijuana penalty reform haven't changed since the beginning of the legislative session. Full-blown Colorado-style legalization is off the table this year, but penalty reduction for user-level marijuana possession has an excellent chance.

The Republican Party in its platform has endorsed one proposal making possession of up to one ounce of marijuana a civil penalty, a measure embodied in Speaker Pro Tempore Joe Moody's HB 63, which received an early hearing this week. Watch the hearing here; the discussion of HB 63 begins at the 41 minute mark.

Meanwhile, Governor Abbott has endorsed reducing the penalty for up to two ounces of pot to a Class C misdemeanor, which is a fine-only offense usually handled with a written citation.

Those remain the two, competing proposals with the best chance of passage. And the civil-penalty idea is getting a head start in the House with a strong, early hearing. Plus we're gaining a little new information as the process moves along. Here are several, disparate, pot-related items I wanted to record at this point in the process which merit Grits readers' attention:

First, the Texas Observer best-in-state coverage of Monday's hearing was titled "Third Times' a Charm," which is certainly the case for Speaker Pro Tempore Joe Moody's bill providing civil penalties for pot. His was a fresh approach to an old problem. But it's worth remembering that legislation to reduce penalties for low-level marijuana possession, as Governor Abbott endorsed, first (unanimously) passed out of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in 2005. The bill simply has never been blessed by House leadership to receive a floor vote, even though most vote counters believe it would overwhelmingly pass.

Another tidbit from this Texas Tribune story, an updated estimate of the number of annual marijuana arrests: "According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, roughly 379,000 Texans have been arrested for possessing 2 ounces or less of marijuana in the past five years." That's 75,800 people arrested per year, more than has sometimes been reported.

Moreover, the Trib reported, "In Dallas County, newly-elected District Attorney John Creuzot said his office is currently declining prosecution for first-time marijuana possession offenders." Creuzot is the first Texas DA to go that far. Here's hoping he won't be the last, and that he'll expand the non-prosecution policy to other victimless crimes like Driving With License Invalid (DWLI).

In San Antonio, DA Joe Gonzalez aims to fix a broken, unused cite-and-release system for pot possession and theft of service, eliminating a $250 fee that kept people from using it, the Express-News reported. (He is also becoming a vocal proponent of bail reform.)

No companions have been filed in the Senate to either Moody's bill or the competing penalty-reduction legislation, although there are still a couple of days left to sneak one in under the wire. (See the comments.) But especially with Moody's bill getting an early start, it appears the marijuana reform action will begin on the House side this year. That suits me fine. I don't doubt for a moment there are sufficient votes on the House floor to pass it.

Unanswered questions: There are many.

Will the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairwoman Nicole Collier also hear legislation promoting Gov. Abbott's version of reform, or was the early promotion of HB 63 a signal that she prefers that method?

Will Gov. Abbott acquiesce in a GOP-platform endorsed alternative (HB 63) to his own idea, or threaten an unpopular veto?

If Moody's bill comes over from the House with the GOP-state platform's imprimatur, will Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a champion of the platform on other topics, shut it down?

There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, as my late grandmother used to say. And while there are positive signs this year for reducing user-level marijuana penalties in Texas, there are also a lot of things that could go wrong if key actors aren't willing to compromise.

Grits prefers the Moody bill, but the Governor's proposal would be a huge improvement and I've supported his suggestion many times in past legislation, back before marijuana reform became the Flavor of the Month. Either approach would be a big improvement and I hope legislators, the Governor, and everyone else with competing proposals can agree on a path forward.


Gadfly said...

On the medical side, North FREAKIN Dakota has gone medical legalization. ND ahead of Texas. Ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Grits, there is a companion to Moody's HB 63 in the Texas Senate. Check SB 156 by Rodríguez with two co-authors. There isn't a companion to Class C proposals thus far.

Anonymous said...

I was wrong. There is a proposal for reducing to a class C in the Texas Senate as well. It's SB 1479 by Johnson. I don't think it is an exact companion to any House Bill though.

jD said...

Were HB 63 to become law, how many district attorneys or county attorneys does Grits believe will file and try a civil suit over one ounce of marihuana or less, when that suit has only the potential of yielding a civil penalty of no more than $250, and that penalty is payable to the state.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the mandatory 6 month license suspension would still apply if the penalties are lowered to a Class C. Licenses suspensions, along with the surcharges and reinstatement fees for drug offenses are brutal.

jimbobob8 said...

What happened to the republican saying the market will police itself, and a free market will decide. Let the industries write the rules like the oil company gets to. I am sure there is enough money from Colorado and California to buy a few votes on this measure.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:47, traffic tickets still get prosecuted. I'm guessing this will, too.

@10:09, that's the biggest difference between the two bills and why I prefer Moody's bill.

Oil Lease said...

These schemes are just that. How do you get an "ounce"or less of pot? Ever try to grow that sub-ounce plant? So when you're are someplace you can get an ounce, of which there will certainly be more than 4 ounces, a felony in Texas, what happens when some badged thugs show up? They'll just say "Ok, you only wanted less than an ounce? You're fine, just go back home". What a crock. Until it's legal to grow there is no decriminalization.

jD said...

Anonymous 10:09 p.m.:

Subchapter O, Chapter 521, Transportation Code, requires the automatic suspension of a person's driver's license "upon conviction" of certain offenses, including certain offenses under Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, that are committed by a minor the Controlled Substances Act, includes POM.

Because HB63 expressly states that the imposition of a civil penalty under the bill is not a conviction, Subchapter O would not apply.

Subchapter P, Chapter 521, Transportation requires the automatic suspension of a person's driver's licence upon conviction of:
(1) an offense under the [federal] Controlled Substances Act;
(2) a drug offense; or
(3) a felony under Chapter 481, Health and Safety Code, that is not a drug offense.

Because HB63 expressly states that the imposition of a civil penalty under the bill is not a conviction, Subchapter P should not apply.

Anonymous said...

This will be a money-maker like traffic ticket fines. Unless legislation is passed eliminating sitting in jail for failing to pay a class c ticket, not real sure how reducing to class c will really fix anything. In reality, there are probably more people incarcerated in jail for failing to pay a class c ticket then number of people sitting in jail for class b misdemeanor on any given day.

Anonymous said...

Grits, what are your thoughts on how SB 1479 handles the driver's license and arrest issue?

(c) Notwithstanding Subsection (a) or (b), a peace officer
or any other person may not, without a warrant, arrest an offender
for a misdemeanor punishable by fine only under Section
481.121(b)(1), Health and Safety Code.

(d) Notwithstanding Subsection (a), a person's license is
not automatically suspended on conviction of an offense punishable
by fine only under Section 481.121(b)(1), Health and Safety Code.
Notwithstanding Subsection (b), the department is not prohibited
from issuing a driver's license to a person convicted of an offense
punishable by fine only under Section 481.121(b)(1), Health and
Safety Code, who, on the date of the conviction, did not hold a
driver's license.

Is this a viable alternative to civil penalties?

Anonymous said...

My life has been completely destroyed because of a recent arrest I was unfortunately afforded. 3 pocs felonies for less than $100 worth of pot in 3 forms. 1/8th of Flower with keif infused on it, 1/2gr of bubble hash & .5gr vape juice and upon reading the way y'all are trying to unravel the laws built on lies perpetrated by law enforcement in a way that the state still maximizes any and all income potential with no regard towards human life nor the casualty of life these illegal laws have inflicted on people such as myself are the most disgustingly greedy acts I have ever had bestowed upon me. I've not been incarcerated or any legal trouble in my entire adult life and now that I'm nearly 50yrs old and just moved back to Texas, I'm unable to get a professional job, I can't drive, I'm on pre-court probation which I am essentially living the life of a guilty/convicted individual with no court date set since I was arrested over 6 months ago. My life has been thrown off track so far I can't even begin to see how I get it back on track. If you've never heard of a hu-haa then this is the best example of what one is and the people you call your leaders (ie. Texas lawmakers) are without a doubt the poorest examples of what a kid should aspire to grow up to be when it's their time to make a choice on whats the best thing they contribute to humanity.