Texas, the largest to not yet legalize cannabis, recently took one step closer to decriminalizing cannabis. The state House of Represented voted to pass a bill that would make possession of small amounts of cannabis no longer a crime in the Lone Star State.
The bill, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, allows use, possession and transportation of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis by adults 21 and older. The bill also allows people to grow up to 12 cannabis plants at home and contains provisions to expunge convictions for those in Texas with past low-level marijuana offenses.
Possession would become a Class C misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $500 and no jail time. Current Texas law makes possession of small amounts of cannabis a Class B misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a maximum $2,000 fine.
In a speech on the House floor, Moody said the Texas cannabis decriminalization will “improve economic opportunities for Texans and strengthen the ability of law enforcement to respond to serious crimes,”
“What this will do is free up hundreds of millions of dollars that currently go into enforcement, keep police on the street working more serious cases instead of processing these petty arrests and make sure those who would currently end up with a record that interferes with jobs, school, housing and licensure come out of the process without any permanent stigma,” Moody said, according to Marijuana Moment.
Changing Times In Texas
After years of not considering bills that could change marijuana law, the possibility of Texas cannabis decriminalization became national news. For Texans, it continued a trend that has started at the local level. For example, voters in six cities in Texas – Denton, Austin, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos – have already passed marijuana decriminalization ballot measures in November. Voters in San Antonio will consider a similar ballot measure this spring.
Texans also have voiced support for decriminalization and legalization in surveys. A University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll from late 2022 found that a vast majority of respondents favor decriminalization and legalization, although for different reasons.
In the survey, 28% said the state should make cannabis for medical purposes only, while 32% said possession of small amounts of cannabis for any reason should be legal. Another 23% said possession of any amount of cannabis for any purpose should be legal.
Roadblocks to Texas Cannabis Decriminalization
The bad news for those who support decriminalization is the Texas Senate. In both 2019 and 2021, cannabis decriminalization bills cleared the House, only to stall in the state senate. They also face opposition from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. In Texas, the lieutenant governor presides over the senate.
Patrick has not yet said publicly if he will block the latest legislation. But Patrick’s opposition has been strong, including a statement his spokesperson made to the Texas Tribune in 2019 stating that Patrick is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”
Given the past opposition, Texas NORML Executive Director Jax James told Marijuana Moment that the time to act is now. “The House’s continued support for penalty reduction is heartening,” he said. “We do have more work to do as it heads to the Senate, so I encourage my fellow Texans to reach out to their senators to encourage their backing as it moves through the legislative process.”