The Texas House passed HB 441 which would lower the criminal penalty for possession of marihuana in limited quantities and establish a path to expunge Texans with prior drug-related convictions.
Recent weeks have seen a flurry of legislative action on marijuana legalization. Lawmakers have held hearings on multiple marijuana decriminalization bills, including a proposal to expand the state’s medical cannabis program and another piece of legislation concerning hemp regulations.
Authored by state Democrat Rep. Erin Zwiener, the bill would reduce possession of 1 ounce of marihuana to a Class C misdemeanor, which would result in a citation similar to a traffic ticket punishable by a fine of up to $500. Significantly, the classification carries no threat of jail time. Currently, possession of up to 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor, which can be punishable by jail time and a $2,000 fine.
While the legislature has historically resisted cannabis reform, positive reception by prominent Republicans such as House Speaker Dade Phelan suggest that this session may see progress.
“Bipartisan support for marijuana law reform continues to grow as Texas voters see other states reaping the benefits of a more sensible approach,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said in a press release. “Fewer arrests for marijuana possession means law enforcement can focus on real crime in our state.”
In a committee hearing, Zwiener echoed Fazio and praised the “bipartisan conversation” over reducing possession penalties.
The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which has historically been less receptive to marijuana reform. In 2019, the House approved a bill that would have reduced penalties for marihuana possession, but Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, was quick to declare the proposal dead in the Senate.