Senator Rodney Ellis, D-District 13, gave marijuana reform supporters another glimpse hope of the Texas Legislature making changes to the strict and outdated marijuana laws this legislative session. Ellis introduced S.B. 1417 as an identical companion bill of H.B. 507, which was previously introduced by Rep. Joe Moody (D, El Paso). Identical meaning that all resolutions of the two bills are word-for-word the same, the only difference is use of ‘House” or ‘Senate’ in the title.
Under S.B. 1417 and H.B. 507, the knowing or intentional possession of an ounce or less of marijuana would be a class B misdemeanor, non-criminal offense, that would result in a civil penalty of no more than $100. Police would be prohibited from arresting a person for possession of an ounce or less. Instead, they will issue a citation that gives a date for an appearance in a justice of the peace (JP) court. The JP court is a low-level court in Texas that typically hears traffic violations, minor juvenile issues and civil small claim matters. The court has the option of issuing the penalty, or may reduce or waive the penalty if the person agrees to attend an educational program or perform 10 or fewer hours of community service.
Furthermore, all marijuana would be confiscated at the time of the citation, which would later be destroyed after the final resolution of the civil proceedings and available appeals. The person will not have a conviction on his or her record. The identity of the person found liable (not “guilty,” since this is not a criminal offense) will be confidential. If either bill is enacted it will go into effect on September 1, 2015.
The benefit of having S.B. 1417 introduced as a companion bill of H.B. 507 is that the death of one bill does not, necessarily, mean the death of the other bill. For example, should the House decide to vote down H.B. 507, S.B. 1417 still has a chance of passing in the Senate and moving onto the House (though if no major resolutions and/or amendments have been made the House would probably arrive at the same verdict for S.B. 1417 as it did for H.B. 507).
Houston NORML is a nonprofit, 501(c)(4) organization working to move public opinion sufficiently through open and honest conversation about reforming marijuana laws to allow for the legalization of marijuana for responsible use by adults and to educate and inform the public of the medical benefits of cannabis and the dangers of prohibition. Learn more at: HoustonNORML.org