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Monday, October 14, 2019

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Two marijuana bills are being debated in the Texas Legislature


Texans could soon see a reduced punishment for having a small amount of marijuana. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

A group of bills aimed at better marijuana policies is blazing through the Texas Legislature, with one front-runner bill already out of committee.

HB 63, sponsored by Rep. Joe Moody, would change laws so individuals would receive two civil penalties of a $250 fine before facing Class C Misdemeanor charges for subsequent offenses. Current Texas law allows for arrest, up to 180 days of jail time, up to $2,000 dollars in fines and a permanent jail record depending on how much marijuana is found in one’s possession.

“The medical marijuana debate is one we’ve had in Texas for a long time,” said Sandra Guerra Thompson, professor of law at UH and director of the Criminal Justice Institute.

Thompson said she would not be surprised if there was movement toward legalization in Texas, as there are many advocates that make compelling cases on the benefits, and keeping marijuana policy stringent is not helping.

“More and more people are starting to realize in terms of costs and benefits that we really haven’t gotten the benefits from tough sentences for low level marijuana crimes,” Thompson said.

Among those who see the winds changing, some UH students felt the current Texas policy was behind the times with how people viewed marijuana.

“I’ve never smoked, but it’s a plant,” said journalism junior Elisha Finister III. “It’s not worth getting in trouble over. If it’s not allowed in certain professional circumstances, sure, but if it’s in your own home, it should be allowed.”

Thompson chaired a committee for the transition team of Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, whose marijuana policy resembles the ideas within HB 63.

“We’ve been doing this sort of thing in Harris County for first offenders,” Thompson said.

Ogg’s marijuana policy diverts all low-level misdemeanor cases out of the criminal justice system, so long as offenders take a “decision-making” course. Since 2017, this program has reduced convictions of misdemeanor possession by 80 percent.

The DA’s office estimates they’ve saved $30 million since the diversion program was implemented.

One of the other notable bills headed toward the Texas House of Representatives is HB 1365, sponsored by Rep. Eddie Lucio III, which is designed to expand access to medical marijuana.

Through HB 1365, patients suffering from conditions like cancer, epilepsy and post traumatic stress disorder could treat their issues with cannabis, provided the medication is not through smoking.  

UH students felt that medicinal marijuana would be far better than the alternatives used to manage pain and other debilitating conditions.

“I think the medical use is much better than over prescribing opioids,” said media production junior Stephen Clark. “I’ve personally seen the effects of long-term opioid prescription leading to addiction, and I find that marijuana is much better in strictly medical terms.”

Advertising sophomore Kailey Axmaker expressed worry for her sister’s development because of the drugs they rely on to help her combat epilepsy.

“My sister is 7, and she takes hard drugs twice a day with a syringe. If marijuana was legalized medically, it would be a lot better for her,” Axmaker said.

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