Marijuana decriminalization in Texas isn’t “dead,” contrary to what the lieutenant governor claimed on Tuesday.
Shortly after the House of Representatives voted this week to approve a decriminalization bill, which would make possession of one ounce or less of cannabis punishable by a $500 fine and no jail time, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) tweeted that the measure was “dead in the Texas Senate,” citing comments from the chairman of that body’s Criminal Justice Committee.
— Dan Patrick (@DanPatrick) April 30, 2019
“I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana,” Patrick said.
But in an interview with The American-Statesman, the chairman in question said his views were mischaracterized by the lieutenant governor.
Sen. John Whitmire (D) said he raised doubts about the prospects of passage in the chamber before the House even voted on the bill, which was subsequently amended to appeal to more Republicans, and that he hadn’t used the word “dead” to describe the legislation at all.
“The reality is we don’t have the votes in the Senate as we talk,” Whitmire said. However, “I don’t believe it’s dead and I’m going to do the best I can [to round up support]. I’m trying to see if we have the votes in the Criminal Justice Committee to get it to the [Senate] floor.”
This is what leadership sounds like:
“I don’t believe it’s dead and I’m going to do the best I can (to round up support). I’m trying to see if we have the votes in the Criminal Justice Committee to get it to the (Senate) floor.” – @whitmire_john #txlege #HB63 #CJReform
— Joe Moody (@moodyforelpaso) May 1, 2019
The lieutenant governor’s hostility toward the modest decriminalization bill puts him out of step with the majority of Texas voters, his own party and even Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
Texas Republicans endorsed decriminalization as a platform plank last year, calling for an even smaller $100 fine for marijuana possession.
Abbot said during a reelection debate last year that he doesn’t want to see “jails stockpiled with people who have possession of a small amount of marijuana” and that he would “be open to talking to the legislature about reducing the penalty for possession of two ounces or less from a class B misdemeanor to a class C misdemeanor,” which is precisely what the House-passed bill would do.
Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that Patrick’s plan “has backfired.”
“Instead of accepting defeat, our statewide movement for reform is more energized than ever before,” she said. “With passage from a bipartisan supermajority in the House, HB 63 is anything but DOA, as Lt. Gov. Patrick would like us to believe.”
“The prohibitionists in Texas are going to continue coming out hard in defense of the status quo. They want to defeat our movement for reform,” Fazio added. “But in less than 24 hours we’ve generated thousands of emails and phone calls to the Senate, including Lt. Gov. Patrick. We will not be intimidated or discouraged. It is time for marijuana law reform in Texas and we’re bringing it to the people!”
As lieutenant governor, Patrick is the presiding officer of the Senate and could still block the legislation from coming up for a floor debate even if it clears Whitmire’s committee. He has also expressed opposition to pending legislation to expand the state’s limited medical cannabis program.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.