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Texas House Speaker Orders Marijuana Decrim Study

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Texas lawmakers won’t officially convene a new session until 2019, but a key committee has been officially charged in the interim with considering marijuana decriminalization and making recommendations for fellow lawmakers to consider.

In a document published this week, House Speaker Joe Straus (R) directed the Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence to “study current practices for the enforcement of criminal laws against low-level possession of marijuana.”

Committee Chair Joe Moody (D) told Marijuana Moment that the move means the discussion about cannabis will be “amplified.”

Moody introduced decriminalization bills in both the regular 2017 session and in a special session held this summer. While he chaired hearings and the panel advanced the bill during the regular session, an expected floor vote never came to pass because the legislative clock ran out.

“Continuing the conversation during the interim is critical to bringing about meaningful reform during the next legislative session,” Heather Fazio, Texas political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment in an email.

“Proposals to reform Texas’ outdated and unreasonable marijuana laws earned bipartisan support during the legislative session earlier this year,” she said. “Lawmakers have failed to enact sensible policies, but this topic being included as an interim charge demonstrates a significant shift in thinking. Marijuana law reform is being taken seriously at the Texas Capitol.”

Medical cannabis legislation also had significant momentum in the state in 2017 but it, too, fell victim to procedural hurdles.

Straus, the House speaker, also told Moody’s panel to “examine the use of alternative punishments [for marijuana] and improvements to criminal enforcement mechanisms and community supervision” during the legislative interim.

Other issues the committee will study in the off-season include the death penalty, sexual assault  and prosecutorial misconduct.

Pre-filing for 2019 bills will begin next November.

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Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 15-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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