Associated Press

AUSTIN - People caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would be ticketed but would not face jail time under a bill a Houston lawmaker said Tuesday makes sense and sends the message that officials don't want Texans smoking dope.

The bill by Democratic Rep. Harold Dutton would make possession of an ounce or less of marijuana a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $500 fine. That's the equivalent of a traffic ticket.

Right now, possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which could mean a jail sentence of up to 180 days and a $2,000 fine.

Dutton said Texas has been tough on crime and now it's time to be smart.

The current punishment is "clogging up our criminal justice system," said Dutton, adding that he tried but failed to get the Legislature to approve the idea last year.

"A person who has two seeds gets the same penalty as a person who has two ounces and that to me seems eminently unfair and I think that overburdens the system with nonsense," Dutton said.

"If we just change the punishment range for these minor quantities, we'd be better off."

Because the legislation still punishes a person caught with even a small amount of pot, "it does send the message that we don't want people out smoking marijuana," Dutton said.