Bipartisan Support for a Pot Bill?

House Bill 81 would decriminalize possession within the state

Karen Reeves, the mother of a former Marine, was the first witness to testify in support of House Bill 81 on Monday evening before the state's House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence. The bill would reduce state penalties for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail to a civil offense, requiring offenders to pay a fine, perform community service, or complete a drug education course. (Distribution would still be a state felony.) In 2014, Reeves' son was pulled over by police for riding in a car with his friend who, unbeknownst to him, had marijuana in his trunk. Both were arrested and charged with a state felony, and her son was promptly discharged from the Marines. "No one belongs in jail for a plant," she said.

Reeves was one of 23 individuals who spoke in support of the bill, which has bipartisan support: It comes co-authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, who chairs the committee, and Rep. Jason Isaac, R-Dripping Springs. (Only one person, Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland, testified in opposition.) Moody began consideration with an address to the bill's opposition, making it clear – should HB 81 move through calendars and to the full House floor, and should it somehow pass through to the Senate – "the message will still be that Texas does not believe marijuana is okay." Moody emphasized that the legislation could save the state $734 million annually, freeing jail space, and giving police officers more time to focus on violent crime, while increasing budgets to fund schools and improve roads.

Deliberations were brief; all told, just under two hours. Committee members left the bill pending, but could resume consideration and potentially vote on it next week. "I think a lot of you are wanting to see some real review of this issue," Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, said.

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