April 30, 2019
Less than 24 hours after the Texas House gave preliminary approval to a bill reducing the criminal penalties for Texans found to possess small amounts of marijuana, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared the measure dead in the Senate.
House Bill 63 by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would lower possession of 1 ounce or less from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, which is the same classification as a traffic ticket. Those found to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana but more than 1 ounce would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor — punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, jail time or both.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, never gave Moody’s companion bill in the Senate a public hearing and previously told The Texas Observer he didn’t see an appetite for marijuana reform in the upper chamber.
In a tweet Tuesday, Patrick confirmed that to be the case.
“Criminal Justice Chair @Whitmire_John is right that #HB 63 is dead in the @Texas Senate,” Patrick tweeted Tuesday morning. “I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”
Patrick has spoken against bills to relax the state’s marijuana laws in the past. In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, his spokesperson Alejandro Garcia said the lieutenant governor is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”
Moody did not immediately respond to request for comment on Patrick’s tweet, but on the House floor Monday he introduced a watered-down version of his original bill in an attempt to make it more palatable to Gov. Greg Abbott — who previously opened the door to reducing the penalty for low-level possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor.
As originally proposed by Moody, HB 63 would have replaced the criminal penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana and replaced it with a civil fine of up to $250. Only those fined more than three times would face misdemeanor criminal charges.
The El Paso Democrat on the House floor Monday also disputed the claim that his bill would lead to the full-blown legalization of recreational marijuana in Texas.
“We can’t legislate in fear of what some future legislators might do,” Moody said. “We’re here to solve the problems of today. It’s not about whether marijuana is good or bad; it’s about whether what we’re doing on enforcement right now is good policy, and we all know it’s not.”
Despite Patrick’s comment, some advocates for marijuana reform said they still hoped to push the bill forward.
“Working through the legislative process means overcoming objection that some folks may have and working with them to find common ground,” said Heather Fazio, the director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “That’s exactly what we did in the House yesterday and what the vote yesterday demonstrates … and we intend to bring that spirit to the Texas Senate.”
“Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says Senate won’t pass bill to lower penalties for marijuana” was first published at by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.