For years, most bills in Texas related in any way to marijuana died in committee with little to no progress.
This year was a shining exception.
Thursday night Texas NORML declared it the “end of the road for marijuana reform in Texas” in 2017, as none of the bills that advocates had high hopes for ever went up for a vote. Still, at least two of them made unprecedented progress this year — and so at least they went out swinging.
House Bill 2107, which would have legalized medical marijuana, and House Bill 81, which would have decriminalized possessing less than an ounce of pot, are the only two marijuana bills to have made it out of committee this session. And that fact alone is historic.
Two days after a hearing in which dozens of mothers with children who have epilepsy and autism and veterans with PTSD presented moving testimony in favor of medical marijuana, a whopping 71 additional lawmakers signed on as co-authors to the medical marijuana bill. That brought the total number of authors to 77, including 29 Republicans, out of 150 House members. With a majority of supporters, the medical marijuana bill would have almost certainly passed in the House. But once it passed committee, there were only a few days left before the House deadline to make it onto the calendar for a vote. It didn’t make it.
“I know that this is extremely distressing for some families out there that are gonna be medical refugees and leave the state of Texas,” Representative Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), who co-authored the bill, said in a video. “We’ve got work to do. I apologize. We’re gonna work harder to get it done.”
HB 81 made slightly more progress. Authored by Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso), it would have made possessing less than an ounce of weed a civil penalty rather than a crime. A stoner caught with half a joint in his backpack would no longer be arrested, hauled off to jail and facing lifelong consequences of a criminal record. Instead, he would only have to pay a civil fine of up to $250, or complete community service. (The bill would have prompted the least change here in Harris County, where the district attorney doesn’t even accept charges if someone is caught possessing less than four ounces of marijuana and instead makes that person complete an educational class about responsible decision-making.)
HB 81 managed to make it on the calendar for a vote on the House floor on Thursday — but so did dozens of other bills. The deadline for the House to consider all of them was at midnight. There simply were not enough hours in the day, and HB 81 died without being heard. Had it been voted on, it would have marked the first time the Lege considered decriminalization of marijuana in any way, shape or form since 1973, when possessing small amounts of pot became a misdemeanor instead of a felony.