Even a Houston or Dallas criminal defense attorney couldn’t explain this, because if you look at it closely and logically, it doesn’t make any sense at all. If you are arrested for the possession of any form of marijuana concentrate in Texas, you will automatically be charged with a felony. On the other hand, if you are arrested for possessing any amount of marijuana under two ounces in this state, you will be charged with only a class B misdemeanor – even if your pot technically contains more THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) than a small amount of concentrate. The laws aren’t consistent, and that means the laws aren’t just.
One Texan plans to offer the Texas Legislature a bill that would end the inconsistency in the marijuana laws, and he’s hoping that the state’s lawmakers will approve his proposal in 2017. Marshall Williams is a co-founder of Denton NORML, an affiliate of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. Williams says that he wrote the bill himself in response to what he sees as a need for average citizens to be involved in government.
Williams explains, “In Texas, marijuana under two ounces is a class B misdemeanor, whereas if you take that two ounces of marijuana and extract cannabinoids from it and produce ten grams of wax, even with the same original weight and chemical content, it is now an instant felony. This is a felony since you would be charged with THC possession, not marijuana possession. The law in Texas makes a distinction between the two, even when THC is present inside the marijuana.”
WHAT WOULD WILLIAMS’ PROPOSAL ACHIEVE?
Williams says that his legislative proposal accomplishes several purposes, Firstly, it provides a legal definition of “hashish” – “the resin or oils extracted from a part of the Cannabis sativa L. plant or a compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the resin or oils.” Secondly, the penalties being proposed for possessing any “hashish” or marijuana concentrate are the same penalties now in place for marijuana possession – but “pro-rated” down to one-fifth the original weight. That is roughly what would be derived with a high-yield extraction technique.
The proposal is not a step toward decriminalization, and Williams says it “isn’t attempting to make a major reform statement, this bill is merely applying common sense to how we enforce cannabis laws in Texas.” Williams explains that under his proposal, “You get the same penalty for ten grams of hashish as you get for two ounces of marijuana. The bill also applies the same logic and criminal penalty assignment to delivery of hashish and delivery of hashish to a child.”
“If you take a 20 milligram pain killer,” Williams says, “and extract the active ingredient from all the inactive sugar and other pill fillers, we don’t prosecute you harder for doing so, we prosecute you for the amount of active drugs. There is no reason why 1000 milligrams of THC in a marijuana bud should be treated differently from 1000 milligrams of THC in a cannabis oil. It’s the same chemical, the same amount with the same effect. They should be treated identically.”
How did Marshall Williams wind up actually writing a bill for consideration by the Texas Legislature? “I enjoy reading long legal documents. I appreciate the fine nuances of the law and the way it is written. Because of this, I undertook the initiative to write a bill. This gives me the advantage of going to Austin, not just with an idea to propose to a legislator, who will have to take time to research the bill, research how the law is written and formulate a good solution to the problem, but I get to go in with a packaged problem-solving bill.”
Marshall Williams says that because lawmakers don’t have much time for writing legislation, he hopes that a bill already written may grab their interest. Without naming names, Williams says he has spoken with a number of elected officials and political figures who’ve expressed receptivity to his proposal. Williams says that he intends to write more legislative proposals in the future.
WHAT OTHER POT-RELATED BILLS WILL LAWMAKERS CONSIDER IN 2017?
Several other marijuana-related proposals were filed by Texas lawmakers prior to the January 10th opening of this year’s legislative session. One bill would allow the voters of Texas to decide on legalizing medical marijuana. Another measure would entirely decriminalize small amounts of cannabis, changing possession for personal use from a misdemeanor to a civil penalty – like a traffic ticket.
Shaun McAlister, speaking for the Dallas-Fort Worth affiliate of NORML, told KXAS News, “I believe Texas is at a tipping point where we’re seeing the rest of the country having a sensible marijuana policy. I believe after this session we will stop putting people in cages for possessing small amounts of this.” McAlister added, “I also believe doctors will be able to recommend – not prescribe but recommend – marijuana as a medicine to patients.”
Opponents of marijuana legalization don’t believe the laws will change this year. Corky Schalchlin, a retired Texas Department of Public Safety narcotics agent, says decriminalizing marijuana would be a mistake. “Are you going to have a doctor show up to surgery who has been smoking or a nurse? A fireman?” Schalchlin asks. “If you legalize it, are you going to have police officers out there carrying a gun that have been smoking? It’s scary. I think it’s a slippery slope.”
WHAT IS THE CURRENT PENALTY FOR POSSESSING POT IN TEXAS?
In this state, cannabis laws are complicated and unlike the laws governing other drugs, so anyone facing a pot charge in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will need the advice and services of an experienced Dallas criminal defense attorney. The possession of two ounces or less of marijuana in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor. A first offense is punishable upon conviction by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2000.
Already this year in Harris County, a new district attorney has declared that she will no longer put in jail suspects arrested with small amounts of marijuana. First offenders will instead be placed in a diversion program that includes drug education classes. Nevertheless, it is still against the law to possess, sell, and grow cannabis in the state of Texas, and some of the felony charges for sale and distribution are still punishable with lengthy prison terms and substantial fines.