Star-Telegram Staff Writer
Texas lawmakers are one step closer to making possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, the same category as most traffic violations.
The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee approved House Bill 254 on Thursday, setting the bill up for debate on the House floor.
Current law assigns the same punishment for possession of a few seeds of marijuana as it does for as much as 2 ounces.
If the bill, sponsored by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, is approved, those caught in Texas with a small amount of marijuana would pay a fine and attend a drug-abuse-awareness class.
To comply with federal law, they would also have to give up their driver's license for six months, although judges can grant an occupational license.
Those caught three times within 24 months would face a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Austin chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws have testified in support of the bill, saying it would save the state millions in jail costs and give casual users the help they need to quit.
Opponents have said that lowering the penalty would send the wrong message and increase marijuana use.