Texas House Committee Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana

In a 4-2 vote, the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, yesterday, reported favorably on House Bill 507 which would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The original text of the bill provides, in part:

Sec. 481.1211. CIVIL PENALTY: POSSESSION OF SMALL AMOUNT OF MARIHUANA

(a) A person who knowingly or intentionally possesses a usable quantity of marihuana in an amount that is one ounce or less is liable to the state for a civil penalty not to exceed $100.

(b) The imposition of a civil penalty under this section is not a conviction and may not be considered a conviction for any purpose.

(c) A peace officer may not make an arrest solely because of a violation of this section. A peace officer shall issue to a person who violates this section a citation that contains written notice of the time and place the person must appear before a justice court, the name and address of the person charged, and the civil violation charged.

The legislation also provides for a reduction or waiver of the civil penalty by the performance of such things as ten hours of community service.

Currently, possession of a usable quantity of marijuana under two ounces is a Class B Misdemeanor, and it is punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine not to exceed $2000.00. Under the proposed legislation, possession of between one and two ounces of marijuana would remain a Class B Misdemeanor.

The favorable report means that the bill now moves to the Calendars Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full House. There is little expectation the bill will get passed, or voted on, by the end of this legislative session as the deadline for bills to advance from Committee to the House for a vote is Monday, May 11, 2015.

University of Texas/Texas Tribune February 2015 Poll on Legalization of Marijuana in Texas

Other marijuana legislation, including a bill that would decriminalize marijuana altogether, did not make it out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. H.B. 507 is unlikely to become law this year; however, the national trend is toward decriminalization, if not legalization. The attitudes in Texas are also trending in the same direction. A 2015 University of Texas poll shows that 76% of Texans believe some form or quantity of marijuana should be legal, with only 24% of Texans saying marijuana should not be legal under any circumstances.

If the legislation were enacted, plenty of legal questions remain. For example, as possession of any usable quantity of marijuana is currently illegal, the odor of burnt marijuana coming from a vehicle is sufficient probable cause for a police officer to conduct a search of that vehicle in Texas. See Miller v. State, 608 S.W.2d 684 (Tex.Crim.App. 1980). Would the ability to impose a civil penalty alone be sufficient probable cause to allow law enforcement to search a vehicle if the odor of burnt marijuana was present? Would this lead new categories of driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) offenses? How would synthetics, liquids, foods, and other cannibinol or tetrahydro derivatives be treated?

There are many others, but until such marijuana legislation actually becomes law, possession of any usable quantity of marijuana in Texas is a serious crime. A conviction for possession of marijuana can also have severe consequences, including a criminal record that will not go away, jail time or probation, loss of employment or the inability to obtain employment, and denial of certain federal benefits, to name a few.

If you have been arrested or charged with possession of marijuana, regardless of quantity, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Our firm can help. Contact us or call us at 325.235.9502 today.