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Texas Moves Closer To Decriminalizing Marijuana

A committee in the Texas state House of Representatives voted in favor of a bill April 3 that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in the state.

The bill, proposed by Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody, gained the support of two Republicans on the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, the Texas Observer reported.

Instead of facing arrest and jail time, people carrying less than an ounce of marijuana would be fined up to $250 under the new legislation.

"It is a fairly new concept in Texas not to criminalize conduct," Moody told the Observer. "Part of the problem has been just getting people comfortable with the idea of treating this differently than we have in the past."

Moody secured the support of two Republicans on the committee by introducing a change to the bill that would allow a judge to upgrade the offense to a Class C misdemeanor for repeat offenders. This would result in a $500 fine.

"If you're going to be a frequent customer, you will be moved into the criminal arena," Moody added.

At present, possession of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, which can be punished with a prison sentence of up to six months.

Republican state Rep. Terry Wilson was one of the two GOP members to back the legislation and has played a role in drafting the legislation.

"Whether or not we end up as a joint author, this is a change we'd like to see in the state of Texas, and we'll try our best to get those changes made," Jeff Frazier, Wilson's Chief of Staff, told the Observer.

Heather Fazio, a spokeswoman for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, explained why she thought the current system needs to be changed.

"The state's current policy of arresting and jailing people for simple marijuana possession is completely unwarranted," said Fazio. "Law enforcement officials' time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious crimes… No one should be saddled with a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol."

However, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has previously stated he is opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational or medicinal use while he is in office, the Associated Press reported.

"I will see Texas continuing to lead the way of diverting away from activity that involves drug use and helping people lead more productive lives," Abbott said in 2015, according to Dallas News.

The bill will now be passed to the Calendars Committee, which determines the order of legislation in the House. Republicans hold a 10-5 majority on the committee.

Sources: Texas Observer, Associated Press via KHOU, Dallas News / Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

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