Texas Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Passes House Vote

Dane Larsen | @_danebailey

This past Monday, April the 29th, marked a turning point in politics in a previously deep red state. A bipartisan Texas marijuana bill concerning marijuana reform passed through the Lone Star State’s House of Representatives. In a landslide vote, H.B. 63 progressed through Congress 98 to 63. This bill would revamp the punishment for someone caught with a personal amount of cannabis for the first time since 1973, a 46 year difference.

Marijuana Legislation in Texas

Of the 55 cosponsors, 47 of them are Democrats, and the remaining 8 are Republicans. This sort of rallying from both aisles translated into a vote with a majority of Democrats and a large portion of Republicans. The marijuana decriminalization bill states that the minimum sentence for citizens caught with marijuana on a small scale will be lowered to 0. Replacing jail time, the lowered offense would be accompanied with a $500 fine. This would effectively decriminalize marijuana possession and breaking the law would be lowered to a class C misdemeanor.

Previously, when Representative Joseph Moody (D) filed H.B. 63 back on November 11th of 2018, he took a much more radical approach to the reform. Moody originally presented the bill with a proposed fine of $250, half of the price determined during Committees. As well as the lowered fine, Rep. Moody was seeking this new class C misdemeanor to cast an umbrella over more violators by reserving these rights to people with more marijuana. The term “personal amount” is often subjective among the states choosing to decriminalize or legalize.

Effects on Texas

H.B. 63 amends the current marijuana laws that state possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is punishable by up to six months in a Texas jail or a fine up to $2,000. Low-THC level medical cannabis extracts were legalized in 2015, but often Doctors refused to prescribe. The alternative to this is that they were unaware or ill-informed about the option of low-THC products. Representative Moody, the Cheif Cosponsor of the bill, states that “enforcement of marijuana prohibition costs Texas $734 million a year and lands 75,000 people in jail”.

However, despite these changes made while pending in committees, the overall effectiveness of the bill remains. Marijuana users reserve more rights for bodily autonomy through the passing of this bill. In a previously deep red state like Texas, the ripple effect of the Green Wave is evident across the United States. The Green Wave entails the sweeping marijuana decriminalization and legalization reform across the country. The uphill success of H.B. 63 marks a turning point in Texas marijuana policy, and the progression of Texan society as a whole.

Uncertainty in the Senate

The same bipartisan support that H.B. 63 received in the House of Representatives is not assured in the Senate counterpart. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R) spoke out less than 24 hours after the passing of the bill in the House. He is loud and clear with his opposition to H.B. 63, along with any Texas marijuana decriminalization or legalization reform passing through his Senate.

In a tweet after the passing of H.B. 63, Patrick concedes with Senator John Whitmire (D). Whitmore represents Houston in the Senate and serves as chair of the Criminal Justice Committee. Whitmire stated earlier that day in an interview with the Texas Observer that he is not likely to grant the bill a hearing or a floor vote. Whitmore goes on to say that this as an effect of the seeming lack of “appetite for such reform in the Senate”. The Chair personally deemed the legislation unnecessary. Despite success in the House and support from the public, he believes it would get defeated in a heartbeat.

This tweet and reaction come directly after the Republican Party of Texas met at the 2018 Convention in June, agreeing to endorse decriminalization of marijuana as a party platform going forward. The position passed through public testimony, through two Committees, then passed a vote of over 10,000 delegates, according to Tom Angell, reporting at Forbes. These seemingly contradictory stances, within one year of each, lead to the polarization of the two parties. Only when the Democrats fully backed legislation in the case of H.B. 63 did the old-school establishment, Republican party members disavow the very same legislation that they agreed to back if presented.

Governor Abbott’s Hot-and-Cold Antics

Republicans still retain a majority in the Senate, possessing 19 out of the 31 seats on the floor. The GOP, however, lost two seats in the 2018 midterms, only furthering the notion of a blue wave in Texas. If the legislation passes through the Senate, it then comes to the desk of Republican Governor Greg Abbott. Abbott is serving on the fourth term as a hard-hitting conservative incumbent.

Since elected in 2015, Abbott has proved himself as a staunch pro-gun advocate, signing a campus carry law and an open carry law. Abbott has also signed a law restricting homosexual couples to marry, as well as a law giving adoption center the option to refuse homosexuals from doing business. He has followed the GOP stance on other policies, banning dismemberment abortions, prohibiting Sharia Law in Texan courts, and signed a 2018 budget that saw the largest expenses on border security in the history of the Lone Star State.

This sort of conservative fundamentalism was all but assured to translate into marijuana reform. However, Abbott made many sit on the edge of their seat with comments in late 2018, just before the midterms.

When Governor Abbott pronounced his openness to Texas marijuana reform in an interview on October 2nd, 2018, he landed the support of moderate Republicans, the Texas Democratic Party, and activist groups alike. Organizations like Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy spoke in favor of the Governor, only to be deceived. In recent weeks, Abbott has spoken out against progressive movements sparking in Texas, at a higher multitude than before. The Governor has made no specific statement about or in favor/opposition of H.B. 63, but most reporters hypothesize Abbott will wait for the bill to gain traction in the Senate before a public assertion.

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