HAVE PRO-P0T EF­FORTS GONE UP IN SMOKE AT CAPI­TOL?

Backer of mea­sure says he’s set­ting the stage for the next ses­sion.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Bob Sech­ler bsech­ler@states­man.com

Prospects are dim for a pro­posed law that would de­crim­i­nal­ize most low-vol­ume pot pos­ses­sion in Texas as the spe­cial ses­sion of the state Leg­is­la­ture winds down, but back­ers made an ef­fort Wed­nes­day to pre­vent them from go­ing up in smoke en­tirely and to set the stage for con­tin­ued ad­vo­cacy of the is­sue.

A hand­ful of sup­port­ers of House Bill 334 — which would re­duce the penalty for pos­ses­sion of small amounts of mar­i­juana in the state to that of most traf­fic tick­ets — turned out for a pub­lic hear­ing at the Capi­tol, say­ing it will free up law en­force­ment re­sources to fight se­ri­ous crimes and will pre­vent oth­er­wise law-abid­ing cit­i­zens from fac­ing po­ten­tially life-al­ter­ing crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion.

The in­tent of the hear­ing, held by the House Com­mit­tee on Crim­i­nal Jurispru­dence, was mainly tac­ti­cal, be­cause Gov. Greg Ab­bott sets the agen­das for spe­cial ses­sions and hasn’t in­cluded mar­i­juana de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion or any other mar­i­juana-re­lated is­sues in the cur­rent one, which ends next week.

But state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso — who chairs the jurispru­dence com­mit­tee and spon­sored

HB 334 — said that con­tin­u­ing to work on the bill now by so­lic­it­ing in­put will bet­ter po­si­tion it for suc­cess dur­ing the next reg­u­lar ses­sion of the state Leg­is­la­ture in 2019. Moody has spon­sored de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion bills in the past two reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sions that were un­suc­cess­ful.

“This is an op­por­tu­nity to get a head start” on the next ses­sion, Moody told the Amer­i­can-States­man. “I don’t in­tend to not take the op­por­tu­nity to delve into this is­sue.”

Mean­while, there’s a chance — al­beit a small one — that Ab­bott could opt to add mar­i­juana-re­lated is­sues to the agenda dur­ing the wan­ing days of the cur­rent spe­cial ses­sion. If that hap­pens, HB 334 could be taken up by the full House quickly be­cause the re­quired pub­lic hear­ing on it al­ready has taken place.

Moody said he doubts Ab­bott will add the is­sue to the spe­cial ses­sion. Spokes­men for Ab­bott didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment, but in the past the gov­er­nor has voiced op­po­si­tion to mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion.

HB 334 would make pos­ses­sion of small amounts of mar­i­juana a civil, not crim­i­nal, of­fense for a per­son’s first three ci­ta­tions. A sim­i­lar bill spon­sored by Moody cleared a key com­mit­tee dur­ing the reg­u­lar leg­isla­tive ses­sion this spring and was sched­uled for a po­ten­tially his­toric vote by the full House, but it got caught in a log­jam of bills as the ses­sion came to a close and was never taken up for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Un­der HB 334, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers would write tick­ets for pos­ses­sion of an ounce or less of mar­i­juana in­stead of mak­ing ar­rests. Peo­ple is­sued those tick­ets would pay fines of up to $250, do com­mu­nity ser­vice or at­tend sub­stance-abuse classes, but wouldn’t suf­fer the per­ma­nent stigma of hav­ing a crim­i­nal record and wouldn’t crowd lo­cal courts and jails. Cur­rent Texas law cat­e­go­rizes pos­ses­sion of 2 ounces or less of mar­i­juana as a Class B mis­de­meanor, pun­ish­able by up to a $2,000 fine and six months in jail.

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, held a pub­lic hear­ing Wed­nes­day for his House Bill 334, which would make pos­ses­sion of small amounts of mar­i­juana a civil in­frac­tion.

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