Marijuana is displayed on a table. (AP Photo/News Herald, Patti Blake)
Texas Young Republicans, a group affiliated with the Republican Party of Texas, publicly endorsed legislative efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession Wednesday.
Over three-fourths of the group’s membership supports decriminalizing possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, instead making it a finable offense, according to a survey conducted by the group.
A House committee discussed proposals late Wednesday night that would reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, and one bill that would legalize it altogether.
“People have different positions, there are some that want to see the incarceration rate go down, there are some that want to save money and then use that money for other law enforcement purposes,” said Brian Bodine, policy director of the Texas Young Republican Federation.
“People have different reasons, but freedom is probably the big one–and personal liberty and responsibility,” Bodine said.
Two proposals by House Democrats would lessen the criminal charge for possession of small amounts of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. But a proposal by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, has the most widespread support among pot backers and Texas Young Republicans.
Moody’s bill would reduce possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a civil offense. It would eliminate the arrest and criminal record and establish a maximum fine of $250.
A proposal by Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, takes decriminalization a step further by removing all mention of marijuana from state statutes, making the drug legal by default.
Bodine said “a majority” of the group’s membership would support Simpson’s bill, but stopped short of taking an official position because it contradicts the Texas Republican Party’s Platform. The conversation, he said, is expected to continue among the Party.
“The younger Republican demographic wants to see these laws changed to varying degrees,” Bodine said. “We’re different than the older generation.”
The committee chairman estimated that 60 people had signed up to testify on the bills Wednesday night. Much of the committee room was in tears as the parents of child with a rare seizure disorder testified in support of Simpson’s bill.
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