Texas lawmakers present bills to decriminalize marijuana

- Only a week after several other states including Florida and California voted to weaken marijuana restrictions, some Texas lawmakers are moving in the same direction.

Texas legislators presented several proposals to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the first day of bill filing for the 2017 legislative session. Introduced in the bills are proposals that would create a specialty court for certain first-time marijuana possession offenders, reduce criminal penalties for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and re-classify convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Voters in California, Maine, Nevada and Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana initiatives, adding them to a growing list of states — including Colorado and Washington — that have already approved the drug for recreational use. In addition to the recreational pot initiatives, voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas also approved medicinal marijuana initiatives. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 28 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico now allow comprehensive public medical marijuana and cannabis programs.

In 2015, Texas lawmakers proposed a number of bills to decriminalize marijuana, including one by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, that would have legalized possessing or using marijuana.  In March 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott said during a press conference that lawmakers would not approve legislation that would legalize marijuana. However, Abbott’s office did not respond to an immediate request for comment Monday on his thoughts on the outlook for such legislation in 2017.

Despite reservations from Texas lawmakers regarding legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana use, one bill gained traction and was signed into law by Abbott last year. Authored by Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, Senate Bill 339 — the “Compassionate Use Act” — legalized oils containing CBD, a non-euphoric component of marijuana known to treat epilepsy and other chronic medical conditions.

In addition, Texas lawmakers across the state say they want leniency in how the state prosecutes marijuana crimes. In an interview with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith Monday, State Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs, said he thinks the Legislature could decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana next year, especially after several states did so on Election Day.


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