Texas State Representative Joe Moody introduced a new bill on Monday that would change the current laws concerning marijuana. The proposed law would effectively decriminalize possession of the the plant for personal use.
Under current Texas law, possession of up to two ounces of marijuana is a crime punishable by up to six months of jail time and fines of up to $2,000. If the proposed bill is accepted by state legislature, adults caught with up to one ounce of marijuana would receive a $100 ticket. This means that a simple possession charge would be considered an infraction, similar to a speeding ticket or parking violation, and not a misdemeanor, as Texas law currently states. Possession of larger quantities of marijuana – meaning more than one ounce – would still be considered a criminal offense under the proposed bill, which would not take away the police’s ability to search for marijuana with probable cause.
Moody’s bill is backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, a nationwide pro-legalization group, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the organization of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. Moody is a Democrat, but he is joined by Republicans in support of the bill. Conservatives have traditionally opposed the reform of marijuana laws, but two years ago a new organization was conceived: Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition. Founder Ann Lee, a lifelong Republican, believes that the current prohibition of marijuana is in direct opposition to conservative principles such as limited government, individual responsibility and personal freedom.
The new marijuana laws proposed by Texas coincide with a nationwide movement towards decriminalization. If the bill is accepted, Texas will be the twentieth state to decriminalize possession of a personal amount of marijuana.
Moody said in a statement that “our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn’t working.” What Moody means is that the state is wasting money by bringing those charged with simple possession into the judicial system. Around 70,000 people are charged with possession in Texas annually, which ends up costing the state about $734 million each year. He also believes that law enforcement could be more effective in preventing more serious and violent crimes if it was less concerned with simple possession offenses. For Moody and his supporters, the issue of marijuana reform is less about the plant itself and more about how the state government should distribute its limited resources in order to better serve Texans.
Surveys show that the majority of Texas citizens support reformed marijuana laws. In a recent poll conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project, 61% of Texans said they would support the decriminalization of marijuana, while 58% said they would support legalization.
Texans who support Moody’s new proposed marijuana laws would argue that the prohibition of marijuana has been as unsuccessful as the failed alcohol prohibition laws of the 1920s, which merely led to an increase in the popularity and consumption of alcohol. There is substantial research that shows a considerable increase in marijuana usage by teens during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the federal government’s War on Drugs was at its peak. The same research shows that in 2014, now that the nationwide attitude towards marijuana is becoming more relaxed, the number of teens who use marijuana has actually decreased. While these statistics do not prove that decriminalizing marijuana is the answer to all of America’s drug-related problems, there is a growing number of politicians, including Texas State Representative Moody, that believe the reform of marijuana laws is something worthy of discussion.
By Dac Collins
Photo by Brett Levin – Flickr License