In this legislative session, State Representative Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) introduced House Bill 715, which would reduce the charge to a Class C misdemeanor for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana. The proposed bill also ensures that a person's
driver's license may not be suspended for possession of an ounce or less of pot.

Current Texas law makes holding an ounce or less a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of six months in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. A class C misdemeanor calls for a fine of up to $500.

HB 715 also calls for the following penalties that accompany the respective possession charges:

More than one ounce, but less than two ounces, a Class B misdemeanor; more than two ounces, but less than four, a Class A misdemeanor.

Class A misdemeanors call for up to a year in jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine. However, if you insist on trafficking large amounts of pot, be aware that the penalties can get quite steep:

If you're holding between four ounces and five pounds (ranging from a full sandwich plastic bag to a small sack of flour), you could face a state jail felony. That means you could go to jail for six months to two years and receive a $10,000 fine.

You're eligible for a third degree felony if you are convicted of possessing between five and 50 pounds (a sack of flour to the weight of an average second-grader); you can earn a second degree felony for between 50 pounds and a ton (a second-grader to the weight of a small compact car).

And if you insist on sitting on more than a ton of pot, prepare to serve between five and 99 years in the pokey and pay up to $50,000.

If passed into law, the bill would take effect September 1, and would apply only to offenses committed after that date.

The Legislative Budget Office estimated the fiscal impact of the bill from 2004 to 2008; it determined that HB 715 would neither add or subtract money to the state's general fund.

However, due to federal law, states that don't suspend driver's licenses in connection with drug offenses, no matter how minor lose a portion of their federal highway funds. Since HB 715 would allow drivers to keep their licenses, the budget office projected that the state highway fund would lose about $164 million during each of those five years.

The budget office pointed out that this revenue loss could be offset by the decrease in the number of people stuck in the county lockup; persons convicted of Class C misdemeanors can't go to jail.

Yet, considering the punitive nature of the current legislature, the chances of HB 715 passing are slim. It has been pending in the criminal jurisprudence committee since early April, which equates to a death knell for the proposal. •