States consider changes to marijuana laws

The 84th Texas Legislature may join a growing number of states revising laws on possession and use of marijuana. Recent revisions and proposed changes to marijuana laws in other states fall into three main categories: lowering criminal penalties for possession of small amounts, legalizing use for medical purposes, and legalizing recreational use.

The most high-profile state policies on marijuana have been approval of the sale of recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state. In the November 2014 elections, voters in Alaska and Oregon approved initiatives to do the same. These laws generally tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. Voters in Washington, D.C. in the most recent general election also approved an initiative to legalize possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana.

Three states in 2014 approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes, bringing the total to 23 states and the District of Columbia. In the November election, Florida voters defeated a state constitutional amendment that would have legalized medical marijuana.

Texas and other states have debated whether to lower criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana, including by reducing it to a fine-only offense. In Texas, the crime of possessing marijuana is punished according to the amount possessed, with possession of smaller amounts being misdemeanors. The debate on lowering penalties centers on the appropriate level of criminalization for marijuana possession, the cost to state and local governments to enforce current law, and whether lower penalties would encourage drug use.

Read more about proposals on possession and use of marijuana and the debate on reducing criminal penalties in the House Research Organization’s interim news article, States consider changes to laws on marijuana possession and use.

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