By Sahar Chmais
A cannabis decriminalization bill, House Bill 441, passed the Texas House of Representatives with 88-40 votes on Friday, April 30.
HB 441, introduced by State Representative Erin Zwiener, would lower the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of cannabis to a Class C misdemeanor. It would be punishable by a fine of up to $550 with no possible jail time or license suspension. Law enforcement would issue a citation, similar to a traffic ticket.
“This piece of legislation is a step forward in reforming our criminal justice system,” Zwiener said. “Instead of overly harsh consequences, I want Texans to be able to move forward from a small mistake without barriers such as difficulty in getting financial aid or finding a job. The over-criminalization of cannabis possession also creates an unnecessary financial burden on taxpayers by exacerbating overpopulation in our jails and directing law enforcement away from violent offenses.”
Under state law, possession of two ounces or less of cannabis is a Class B misdemeanor and punishable of up to 180 days of imprisonment, a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days of license suspension.
More than 70,000 Texans get arrested for cannabis low-level possession each year. These arrests account for the majority of all drug arrests in the state. If a person has to do jail time for possession and they are indigent, the county must hire a lawyer to represent the defendant.
This costs Texas cities and counties hundreds of thousands of dollars every year.
A similar bill, introduced by State Representative Joseph Moody, passed the State House in 2019, but not the State Senate.