- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - For now, legalizing marijuana remains out of the question in Texas. But decriminalizing it?

That’s also unlikely this year in tough-on-crime Texas, which is among 22 states that prohibit both medicinal and recreational marijuana use. Bills that would relax criminal penalties in Texas for pot were relegated to a late-night hearing Wednesday with time running down in the legislative session.

Supporters still packed a Criminal Jurisprudence Committee meeting for what might have been marijuana’s only moment this session, since no other hearings have been scheduled. Aside from Republican opposition, law enforcement groups in Texas also still see changes as a threat to public safety.

Here’s what to know about the efforts to tweak - or outright repeal - marijuana laws in Texas:

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WHAT ARE THE PROPOSALS?

Three Democrats offered bills that would reduce possession of small amount of marijuana to a low-level misdemeanor or a $100 ticket. Rep. Harold Dutton, a Houston attorney who has tried relaxing Texas pot laws for a decade, said “the rest of this country is moving in this direction.”

But the boldest bill is from a Republican: David Simpson, a libertarian-leaning conservative, filed the only proposal that would legalize marijuana. Simpson quoted from the Bible while making a religious case for letting people use pot.

“God, I believe through scripture, condemns excessive use,” Simpson said. “But he doesn’t ban the substance.”

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WHAT ABOUT MEDICAL MARIJUANA?

None of the bills discussed Wednesday focused on marijuana for medicinal use, but one family sobbed while testifying about how Texas’ tough stance has denied help to their young son with a seizure disorder.

A handful of medical marijuana bills have been referred to a House public health committee but have not been scheduled for hearings. The 140-day session ends June 1.

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WHAT ARE OTHER CONSERVATIVE STATES DOING?

Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana are among a number of southern and strongly Republican states like Texas without leniency on pot laws. The closest state to Texas with looser laws is New Mexico, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2007.

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WHERE DOES THE GOVERNOR STAND?

Abbott has said he doesn’t see decriminalization happening this year, and lighter pot laws seem unlikely on his watch. But views can change. Former Gov. Rick Perry signaled he was coming around to decriminalization during his final year in office, telling late-night host Jimmy Kimmel in one interview, “You don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for having a joint.”

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

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