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Marijuana decriminalization bill advances in Texas House

The Criminal Jurisprudence Committee in the Texas House has approved House Bill 63 that calls for marijuana decriminalization. Written by an El Paso Democrat, the bill seeks to reduce penalties for people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana. Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana represents a Class B misdemeanor and could impose fines up to $2,000 on offenders as well as jail sentences up to 180 days.

If signed into law, the bill would drop penalties to only a $250 fine. A third offense would increase the fine to $500 and represent a Class C misdemeanor, which is similar to a traffic ticket. The director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy told media that HB 63 has bipartisan support in the House because many lawmakers understand that police departments should not waste resources on such low-level offenses.

The reception of the bill in the Texas Senate, however, is expected to be hostile. The Texas Freedom Caucus buried a similar bill in 2017 to prevent a Senate vote. The lieutenant governor who exerts control over the Senate's agenda has said that he opposes reforms that weaken current marijuana laws.

As political battles continue in the legislature, a person currently arrested for marijuana possession must contend with existing criminal laws. The representation of an attorney may protect someone's rights in court. An attorney might find opportunities to create a defense strategy if the person was subject to an unlawful search and seizure. Legal support may also help an individual negotiate a plea deal for a reduced drug charge.

Source: Dallas Observer, "Texas House Committee OK's Weed Decriminalization," Stephen Young, March 26, 2019

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