Lawmakers consider bill that takes away jail time for small amount of pot

AUSTIN, TX (KTRK) -- Texas lawmakers are considering a bill that would take away the threat of jail time and a criminal record for people caught with a small amount of marijuana.

Patrona Carr, 25, is one of thousands of people in Harris County charged with marijuana possession each year. She went to the courthouse Wednesday to pay almost $800.

"I got two kids. It's ridiculous," Carr said, "I only had - it was only like maybe a sweet or two, and I'm paying all this money for nothing."

According to court records, Carr had less than two ounces of marijuana in her possession when she was arrested.

"I had to take off work. I work seven days a week," Carr said. "I come up here, I've been up here about six months back and forth with a lawyer."

Carr will still have a criminal drug charge on her record.

Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso) wants to change that by giving offenders a civil fine of $100 dollars and sending them on their way.

Joseph Gamaldi with the Houston Police Officers' Union does not think the bill is necessary because of a pilot program already in place in Harris County.

"Marijuana can sometimes be a gateway drug, and we do take it seriously when anybody's using illegal narcotics," Gamaldi said, "But we believe the DA's office has made a first step in keeping minor marijuana offenses from clogging up the criminal system."

Under the DA's experimental program, marijuana offenders are fingerprinted and screened for past offenses. If the offender has a clean record, that person can do community service instead of going to jail. Since October 2014, more than 1,100 people have participated.

Carr did not qualify for the program because she was arrested for theft eight years ago.

"I was young," Carr said, "I was seventeen at the time."

She hopes Texas joins 20 other states in developing more lenient marijuana laws.
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