State legislators advocate fewer restrictions on marijuana use

Chad Lyle

In a state historically strict when it comes to marijuana use and possession, two Texas state lawmakers have proposed bills designed to soften that stance.

Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from District 78, is seeking to change the penalty for those caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana. Currently, anyone possessing less than two ounces risks being charged with a Class B criminal misdemeanor. Moody’s proposition, House Bill 63, would remove the possibility of criminal prosecution from those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana, recategorizing it as a civil offense.

“We’re just taking this out of the criminal arena,” Moody said. “It’s still not lawful, but we’re not going to create a criminal history. We’re not going to arrest you, we’re not going to take you to jail, you’re not going to go to the criminal court system. We’re going to have you pay a fine, and if you’re unable to pay a fine, you can do community service.”

Moody said the current laws surrounding marijuana possession disproportionately affect young people and damage the economy.

“This really does have a negative impact on our economy,” Moody said. “If you saddle young people with this type of criminal history that has all these collateral consequences, it makes it harder to get jobs. It has a ripple effect throughout our economy.”

Sen. José Menéndez, a Democrat from District 26, is looking to change a different portion of the law, advocating for more freedom for doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients. His proposal, Senate Bill 90, would expand the reach of a current law that allows certain doctors to prescribe low-THC cannabis oil to patients with epilepsy.  

“My goal is to take the very limited Texas Compassionate Use Act and expand it to where a doctor can make a decision based on whether or not a patient would benefit from medicinal cannabis or not,” Menéndez said.

Menéndez said doctors are capable of handling the responsibility of prescribing marijuana.

“We don’t have a compelling legislative purpose to be limiting doctors on what they’re going to treat,” Menéndez said. “They go to medical school, they get licensed, we should trust them like we trust them to prescribe other very strong narcotics that can be lethal. This one plant has never been proven to have anybody die from an overdose or develop an addiction.”

Government professor David Prindle said he thinks legislators may be more open to loosening marijuana laws in the spring because the substance doesn’t have the same stigma that it used to.

“It used to be thought that first you’ll try marijuana, then you’ll try heroin, then you become a criminal in every other way. And people don’t think that anymore,” Prindle said. “Forty years ago marijuana was a symbol of something, and to be against marijuana was a whole cultural stance. I don’t think it’s that way anymore. Marijuana is no longer a symbol of whatever it was it used to symbolize.”

The bills proposed by Moody and Menéndez will be considered when the Texas Legislature begins its 86th session on Jan. 8.