The penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana in Texas would be reduced under a proposal being examined today by state lawmakers.
House Bill 184, by State Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston), would make possession of less than an ounce of pot the equivalent of a traffic violation, a Class C Misdemeanor. And, like a traffic violation, the police officer would issue a fine and let the person go. The fine would be $500, no possibility of jail time.
The last time the state legislature reduced penalties for marijuana was in 2007. That made possession of less than two ounces a Class B Misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of $2,000 in fines, 180 days in jail and possible suspension of the person’s drivers license. Dutton says his proposal would save taxpayer dollars.
“It certainly would help law enforcement focus on those things that are far more critical than some kid who has half a joint in his pocket," Dutton told us a few days before filing his bill last year. "By simply writing the person a traffic ticket and then going about their business, we’d certainly save lots of money on law enforcement.”
Police currently have the option of issuing a citation when they catch someone with less than two ounces of marijuana and releasing them on the spot. The suspect signs the form that promises they will show up in court.
An analysis by KUT News found that happens in one out of four marijuana possession interdictions by Austin Police.
Today’s hearing on HB 184 is at the State Capitol this morning at 10:30. You can also watch it online.