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Texas Lawmakers To Discuss Reduced Penalties For Marijuana Possession

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 04:12 PM CDT

Reducing jail time, or getting rid of it altogether, for people caught with marijuana. It's been a big talker, and in recent months, we've seen several states change their stance on pot usage and pot possession. Later Tuesday, Texas lawmakers will tackle the topic at a hearing that kicks off at 10:30 a.m.

The same penalties as a traffic ticket, but for having marijuana: that's what could happen if one bill becomes law. On Tuesday morning, the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence is expected to hold a hearing on House Bill 184, filed by Rep. Harold V. Dutton Jr. (D-Houston). If passed, it would mean no jail time for anyone found with up to an ounce of marijuana. The law would make it a Class C misdemeanor with a fine of up to $500.

While some worry it could mean more people using, most we talked to early Tuesday morning seemed supportive of the idea.

"It saves taxpayers money, so I figure it can't hurt too much," said Scott Schindler, of Austin.

"I think that’s a good thing," said John Alexander. "Less jail time or no jail time is better for that."

That's quite a change from the penalties people now face. Currently, possession of up to 2 ounces of pot is a Class B misdemeanor. That could mean up to six months in jail, up to $2,000 in fines, and a driver's license suspension.

Another bill in committee, HB 594 from Rep. Elliott Naishtat (D-Austin), would give people battling serious illnesses a legal defense for having pot based on medical necessity, along with protecting doctors who recommend it.

Austin Police began enforcing a "cite and release" policy in 2009 for small amounts of marijuana.

"We have found success in doing that," said Cpl. Anthony Hipolito, of APD. "It (the policy) keeps officers on the street a lot longer than they would be because by the time they take people to jail, book em in, write the report, it could be a couple hours."

But Cpl. Hipolito says possession of marijuana is still illegal in Austin, and a citation doesn’t mean you’re home free.

"They're not getting away with it, but you do have to come back to court at a later time to answer for that charge," said Cpl. Hipolito, who added APD can also use that cite and release policy for certain other misdemeanors, including theft.

By Adam Bennett Texas Lawmakers To Discuss Reduced Penalties For Marijuana Possession

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