EL PASO, Texas - El Paso state Rep. Joe Moody has proposed legislation to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a civil penalty.
House Bill 81 states that a person who has less than one ounce of marijuana be liable to the state for $250.
People charged may also have to serve up to ten hours of community service, or attend a substance abuse program through the Department of State Health Services or the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Rep. Moody said that current penalties for marijuana possession waste money and resources.
"We are spending upwards a $700 million dollars a year on for low-level possession of marijuana," said Moody. " That is not a smart way to use our limited law enforcement resources, and is not a smart way to use the time of our law enforcement in the field, or our prosecutes in the court room. "
People convicted of marijuana-related crimes face many collateral consequences. According to Moody, the number of convictions in El Paso is substantial.
"Mostly young offenders with criminal records for the rest of their lives that are going to make them less likely to be able to get a job, get a quick housing,"said Moody. "They are going to lose drivers licenses. The data that I have seen out of the El Paso County for, I think, 2015 said there was roughly 2,600 misdemeanor arrests for marijuana."
A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found attitudes of marijuana use among Texans has shifted. Texans who support legalizing small amounts rose six percentage points from 26 percent to 32 percent. Respondents who think any amount should be legal rose from 16 percent to 21 percent. Overall, support for some level of recreational use of marijuana rose 11 percent.
Colt DeMorris, founder of El Paso NORML (National Organization for the Reform Of Marijuana Laws) said he presented a version of this bill to Rep. Moody in 2014. He said he drew inspiration from similar marijuana legislation in Washington D.C., and wants to see it passed in Texas.
"Stop arresting people and putting them in jail for marijuana," said DeMorris. "Patients have safe medical access, and just returning the status of a plant back to what it is: a plant."
Bob Pena, Executive Director of the Republican Party of El Paso, said marijuana laws need to dissuade people from use. At the same time, he said he does not want a person convicted of a marijuana-related crime to have that follow them throughout their life.
"There's a lot to be concerned with here, but yet we don't want to give the young people the impression that 'hey it's alright to smoke pot' because everybody knows that nobody's on heroine, cocaine, that didn't start off smoking pot."
Rep. Moody introduced a similar bill to the Texas House of Representatives last year. He said he has to discuss HB 1 with fellow members of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee before it can be debated in the Texas House of Representatives