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 @Texas Senate,” 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, 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 introduced a watered-down version of his original bill Monday.
As originally proposed by Moody, HB 63 would have replaced the criminal penalties for people caught with an ounce or less of marijuana 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.”