Texas lawmakers prepare bipartisan push to loosen state marijuana regulations

Chad Lyle

Advocates for marijuana decriminalization in Texas might score a major victory this year if the state legislature passes House Bill 63, a bill proposed by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, that has attracted bipartisan support.

House Bill 63 would make it a civil offense, not a criminal one, to be caught in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. Cannabis is typically sold by the gram, and an ounce contains 28 grams.

Moody first introduced legislation to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2015, and said support from across the aisle is much more prevalent than it was in past sessions.

“One of the main things that’s changed from last session to this session is the fact that the Texas Republican Party has added a plank of its party platform that endorses this legislation,” Moody said. “I think the dialogue outside the Capitol has shifted dramatically over the last two years. And so we need to take that public opinion shift and put it in to put it to work for us on the policy side.”

Similar to House Bill 63, the 2018 Texas Republican Party platform also advocates a civil penalty for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis.

According to the platform, Texas Republicans “support a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time.”

Heather Fazio, the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said Republican support for legislation such as Moody’s is a breakthrough for her organization.

“We were thrilled to see the progress that our Republican allies made during the convention process last year … specifically the civil penalty approach that they’d like to see where there’s no arrests, no jail time and, most importantly, there’s no criminal record associated with small amounts of possession,” Fazio said.

Moody’s past decriminalization bills did not gain enough support to pass the House, but this time he said he sees a more viable path for House Bill 63 to make it to a floor vote and hopefully pass.

“I look at the membership of the committee that was named (on Wednesday), and I certainly think there is a coalition there that could take the bill out of committee and hopefully put it on the House floor,” Moody said.

If Moody’s bill does pass the House and is ultimately approved by the Senate, Gov. Greg Abbott indicated in a 2018 gubernatorial debate he is open to signing decriminalization legislation into law.

“The statement he made during that debate certainly gives me a lot of hope that ultimately this is a policy he could support,” Moody said. “I’m certainly going to reach out to his office and visit with them about this approach.”


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