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Bill seeks to reduce penalties for small marijuana possession

There is no doubt that marijuana use is a hot top in the Texas Legislature this year. Following a nationwide trend, there are nearly 60 proposed bills in the statehouse currently related to marijuana in one form or another. They include bills dealing with cannabis for medicinal use and testing for use to obtain public benefits.

One bill has seen support is a proposal to decriminalize the possession of smaller amounts. Currently, possession of an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense and a conviction could bring a hefty fine and jail time. Under the bill, the penalty would be reduced to the seriousness of a traffic offense. It would not count as a criminal conviction on a person's record and the person would not be arrested.

The main proponents of House Bill 63 include a staunch Republican, a district attorney and a Democratic lawmaker. Proponents of the bill point out that the biggest benefit to decriminalization is alleviating stress on law enforcement and that it costs the state over $700 million each year to take into custody and then prosecute defendants on this type of charge. Bill sponsors stress that decriminalization would free up both money and manpower to investigate and prosecute more serious crimes. Jail populations would also be reduced.

There are some things the bill does not do. It does not legalize marijuana possession, nor does it decriminalize all charges of possession. It only lessens the penalties for being caught with an ounce or less. A conviction on the possession of more than an ounce can be a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the amount.

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