The Texas House of Representatives took up HB 63 this week, which decreases the penalty for marijuana possession. It passed by a vote of 98-43. The Libertarian Party of McLennan County supports the House’s actions in regards to this legislation.
Around 75,000 arrests are made each year in Texas for marijuana, and 90 to 95 percent of those arrests are for an ounce or less according to the bill’s author, Rep. Joe Moody, who also remarked that the state spends $730 million annually to enforce our current marijuana laws.
HB 63 makes possession of an ounce or less a Class C misdemeanor. This includes the issuing of a ticket for $500 or less, provides for quick expungement of a simple possession record, has a provision for allowing defendants to retain their driver license, and defendants will no longer be arrested. This frees up valuable resources in our judicial system by allowing police to stay out on the streets and patrol, and allows an already extremely overworked court system more time to pursue cases where there is a victim. Overcrowded jails would see relief as well.
Current law allows for up to a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail, along with a suspension of driver license, even if there is no vehicle involved. Federal policy mandates that states suspend driver licenses when there has been a drug conviction in order to receive federal highway funding. The Libertarian Party of McLennan County believes the state should decide on this matter for itself, just as most other states have already done.
While a step in the right direction, the Libertarian Party of McLennan County advocates for legalizing marijuana outright and ending the injustice Texans have endured for decades.
“While we applaud efforts to change our marijuana laws for the better, the glacial pace our legislators are moving at is unacceptable. Bad policy is ruining lives, and now is always a good time to do the right thing,” states Stephen Carter, the party’s secretary. “Moody stated that he had to water down the bill in order to win the governor’s approval, but shouldn’t the approval of our citizens be what ultimately matters in cases like this? These are our representatives, but they haven’t been very representative of our community on this issue.”
The Libertarian Party of McLennan County is greatly disappointed that Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson and Rep. Kyle Kacal chose to vote against this legislation and go against the 69 percent of Texans who are supportive of decreasing the penalties for possession of marijuana.
Heather Cash, the party’s vice chair, questioned those votes. “My fellow citizens of Texas House Districts 12 and 56 should ask our elected representatives why they voted against a bill that weakens penalties on the possession of small amounts of a plant which provides numerous benefits for our sick and chronically ill citizens, would reduce the population of non-violent offenders in our already over-crowded county and private jails, and would save taxpayer dollars. We have the right to know if their own personal interests contradict what is best for their constituents and the citizens of our districts.”
This legislation now heads to the Senate, and the decision will be up to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick as to whether it will pass, or even be heard by the upper chamber, before landing on Abbott’s desk. It is with hope that these two men, along with Senator Brian Birdwell, make the right decision in enacting this legislation.