On April 14th, a Texas House committee unanimously approved a bill, HB 254, restructuring sentences for possession of low amounts of marijuana (under two ounces) in Texas. Fines and drug abuse awareness classes would replace jail sentences under the proposed law for most offenders. The bill should go to the full house soon.
The Texas legislature is under a lot of pressure to reduce jail and prison overcrowding, and this bill may well pass. As a Criminal Defense attorney in Austin, I can attest that it is badly needed. The Fort Worth Star Telegram has a report:
“Texas lawmakers are one step closer to making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, the same category as most traffic violations.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved House Bill 254 on Thursday, setting the bill up for debate on the House floor.
Current law assigns the same punishment for possession of a few seeds of marijuana as it does for as much as 2 ounces.”
The Bill is being pushed by NORML and the ACLU of Texas.
One effect of the proposed legislation would be to keep a large number of young people out of the probation system. This would have a dramatic impact on the lives of these kids, and free up badly needed criminal justice resources to deal with more serious problems.
The Texas legislature is also seriously reworking the state’s probation system to reduce the number of probationers sent to prison for minor or technical violations of probation. Again, the primary motive is money – it is interesting to see the Republican majority scrambling to do almost anything to avoid raising taxes, even if it means treating people in the criminal justice system more fairly.