Less than 24 hours after the Texas House gave preliminary approval to a bill reducing the criminal penalties for Texans found to possess small amounts of marijuana, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick declared the measure dead in the Senate.
House Bill 63 by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, would lower possession of 1 ounce or less from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, which is the same classification as a traffic ticket. Those found to possess 2 ounces or less or marijuana but more than 1 ounce would be charged with a Class B misdemeanor — punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, jail time or both.
State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, never gave Moody’s companion bill in the Senate a public hearing and previously told The Texas Observer he didn’t see an appetite for marijuana reform in the upper chamber.
In a tweet Tuesday, Patrick confirmed that to be the case.
“Criminal Justice Chair @Whitmire_John is right that #HB 63 is dead in the @TexasSenate,” Patrick tweeted Tuesday morning. “I join with those House Republicans who oppose this step toward legalization of marijuana.”
Patrick has spoken against bills to relax the state’s marijuana laws in the past. In a previous statement to The Texas Tribune, his spokesperson Alejandro Garcia said the lieutenant governor is “strongly opposed to weakening any laws against marijuana [and] remains wary of the various medicinal use proposals that could become a vehicle for expanding access to this drug.”
To make his bill more palatable to Gov. Greg Abbott — who previously opened the door to reducing the penalty for low-level possession from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor — Moody on Monday introduced a watered-down version of his original bill.
As originally proposed by Moody, HB 63 would have replaced the criminal penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana and replaced it with a civil fine of up to $250. Only those fined more than three times would face misdemeanor criminal charges.
On the House floor Tuesday, just after the lower chamber gave final approval to his bill in a 103-42 vote, Moody said that Patrick was “the odd man out” and that “the ball is in his court.”
“Whatever you think about Colorado-style legalization, this isn’t it. It isn’t even a step toward it,” Moody told his colleagues on the House floor. “Mr. Patrick has been tweeting about this bill instead of giving us the courtesy of talking to us here in the House. … Let’s vote this across the hall so they can get to work on the House’s priorities, and so we can see how those priorities are respected as we consider Senate bills over here over the next few weeks.”
Despite Patrick’s comment, some advocates for marijuana reform said they still hoped to push the bill forward.
“Working through the legislative process means overcoming objection that some folks may have and working with them to find common ground,” said Heather Fazio, the director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “That’s exactly what we did in the House yesterday and what the vote yesterday demonstrates … and we intend to bring that spirit to the Texas Senate.”
Read related Tribune coverage
- Texas House passes bill that reduces penalties for Texans caught with small amounts of marijuana
- No, experts don’t consider marijuana a gateway drug. That, and five more fact checks from the Texas Legislature on weed.
- Will Texas decriminalize marijuana this year? There is growing support.
The 86th Legislature runs from Jan. 8 to May 27. From the state budget to health care to education policy — and the politics behind it all — we focus on what Texans need to know about the biennial legislative session.