A legislative deadline of 12:00 AM on May 11th passed without the Texas legislature advancing a medical marijuana bill that was proposed earlier this session. House Bill 81 (HB 81) would have made it a civil penalty instead of criminal for possessing an ounce, or less, of marijuana.
Getting penalties for possession in Texas is a big deal. The state has some of the more pernicious laws still on the books for cannabis possession and as many as 70,000 people are routinely arrested for simply marijuana possession. With medical marijuana now legal in neighboring Arkansas, pressure to make changes in Texas are growing.
“Our Texas Legislators have let us down again this session by not allowing any of the cannabis related bills to be heard on the house floor,” explained Karen Reeves of CenTex Community Outreach, and activist organization for legalization and medical marijuana. “We as Activists need to stand tall and continue the fight.”
Texas NORML released a statement which read, in part, “Due to deleterious actions of legislators in regards to other bills, the agenda did not advance to our bills position. This is a travesty.”
But, HB 81 made history by even getting through committee and on to the regular House calendar. Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy said, “Although HB 81 died on the vine when time ran out late Thursday, it advanced farther than any of the other high-profile marijuana-related bills this session by simply making it onto the calendar of the full House.”
The bill would have issued a $250 penalty by the issuance of a citation, just like a traffic ticket. Current law on marijuana possession of two ounces or less is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.
Two other bills relating to marijuana never cleared committee. HB 2107 related to medical marijuana and HB 3587 related to industrial hemp were held up and never placed on the calendar.
There is a small window of opportunity that could allow the bills to be introduced later in a less formal way. HB 81 sponsors, state Reps. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, and Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said they will possibly try to tack it on to another bill as an amendment. The other bill sponsors will likely also try to add them to other legislation if they can.
“Our voices and our stories are very important,” explained Reeves further. “Too many Texans are needlessly suffering and dying because they lack safe legal access, and many of us might not make it to another session. Remember it’s not against the law to want to change the law.”