Marijuana decriminalization bill draws support from many, including Bexar County DA

HB63 calls for fines instead of jail time for up to 3 possession offenses

By Deven Clarke - Crime and Justice Reporter, Bill Caldera - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - HB63 would allow people who possess small amounts of marijuana in Texas to avoid receiving jail time and a criminal record. The bill recently passed through the State House Committee.

The statewide proposal calls for fines instead of jail time for those possessing up to 1 ounce of marijuana, until a third offense.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said the proposal falls in line with the county's cite and release program. The program is slated for full implementation in April.

"I’m in favor of this bill because it is consistent with what my reform platform is. That is restorative justice, giving an individual an opportunity to reform his conduct," Gonzales said.

Martin Henderson, who is now the father of five children, said he wishes he had that opportunity when he was a teenager.

"I had a blunt in the car, 16 years old, (and I) had my license maybe six months, and got pulled over," Henderson said.

Henderson, who lives on the city's East Side, said he found himself behind bars for 30 days, before being given nine months of probation and an exorbitant fine he could not pay.

"There's no reason for a high school senior to be placed in jail next to a murderer,” Henderson said.

Because of the charge, Henderson said, he lost a scholarship and military eligibility. He credits being naturally ambitious for the ability to overcome his criminal record.

Henderson now works full time and runs the nonprofit program, Fatherhood Matters. He has also done outreach with the San Antonio Police Department to combat street violence.

"I tell people that jail makes you a better person or a better criminal,” Henderson said.

Gonzales believes restorative justice measures will reduce the jail population and be cost effective.

"It's going to save the taxpayer dollars because someone who may qualify for a court-appointed lawyer may not have to have one because he's not having to show up to court for a criminal charge," Gonzales said.

Despite HB63's approval by the House Committee, the bill still has to go through several steps to become law.

It is now on its way to the Calendars Committee to be scheduled to head to the floor. An exact timeline is still uncertain as of Tuesday.

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