Texas Pol Wants to Make Pot Penalties Similar to a Speeding Ticket

A Texas lawmaker is pushing a bill that would ensure most people caught with small amounts of marijuana do not face jail time.

The proposal, which the Texas Democrat has introduced before, would make getting caught with an ounce or less of pot similar to getting pulled over for speeding. Instead of facing up to six months in jail, the culprit would face a maximum $500 fine.

Though it may not pass, the proposal is coming out of a state that for years carried some of the nation's toughest marijuana penalties.

Allen St. Pierre, director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said that marijuana possession, even a small amount, carried a felony penalty and automatic jail time throughout the 1970s in Texas. The Texas Legislature modified the law a few years ago so that local jurisdictions could choose to fine, not lock up, minor offenders.

State Rep. Harold Dutton wants to make sure those offenders don't face any jail time. His proposal would automatically downgrade possession of one ounce or less from a "Class B" to a "Class C" misdemeanor.

Legalization advocates are getting behind the bill.

"From our point of view ... to have such a huge state like Texas that traditionally, historically has been so against these reforms, that would be one more indication of these reforms bubbling up from the states," St. Pierre said, adding that 13 states have taken jail time off the table for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

But he said that even if it passed, Republican Gov. Rick Perry would likely veto.

Possession of between one and two ounces would still be punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Anyone caught with between two and four ounces would face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

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