It seems like marijuana laws are changing everywhere these days. One in five U.S. residents now lives in a state where it is legal to smoke marijuana without a doctor’s recommendation. As of 2017, adults may possess small amounts of pot for personal use in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C. Also as of 2017, marijuana is legal for medicinal purposes in 29 states. Texas, however, continues to enforce some of the harshest marijuana laws in the nation.
Heather Fazio, Texas political director with the Marijuana Policy Project, says, “No one deserves to have their lives derailed due to a criminal conviction for possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol.” Ms. Fazio and other advocates of marijuana reform in our state were confident that genuine reforms could be enacted in Texas in 2017, but once again, Texas lawmakers found ways to avoid the issue.
Thus, the possession of marijuana in any amount remains against the law in Texas under almost all circumstances. A variety of marijuana reform bills were introduced in the Texas Legislature this year, including a proposal to expand the state’s barely-functioning medical marijuana program as well as a proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults.
HOW DOES THE TEXAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW WORK – OR NOT WORK?
In the words of Michael Barajas, writing in the San Antonio Current, the state’s single medical marijuana law makes it “basically illegal for doctors to approve patients for treatment, rendering the bill practically useless.” Federal law prevents doctors from prescribing any Schedule One controlled substance, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still classifies pot as a Schedule One controlled substance.
Because the Texas medical marijuana law specifies that a doctor must “prescribe” rather than “recommend” medical marijuana (in the form of cannabis oil), the language of the law needed to be changed and still does, since lawmakers took no action.
An attempt to do away with criminal penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use by adults ran into a similar dead end in the Texas Legislature in 2017. The bill, which was sponsored by State Representative Joe Moody of El Paso, would have reduced the penalty for possession of a small amount of pot for personal use by an adult to a $250 fine. Lawmakers adjourned without even considering the proposal.
WHY HAS MARIJUANA REFORM STALLED IN TEXAS?
Representative Jason Isaac believes that his colleagues in the Texas Legislature are rejecting all marijuana reform measures because they fear that any liberalization of marijuana laws will open the floodgates to full legalization. Interestingly, however, and increasingly, many Texas prosecutors disagree and are now favoring at least some reform of the state’s pot laws.
In 2011, prosecutors across Texas dismissed 23 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana cases. By 2015, according to the Austin American-Statesman, about a third of the state’s misdemeanor marijuana cases were being dismissed.
Bexar County dismisses more than a third of its misdemeanor marijuana cases. Travis County dismisses about fifty percent. Harris County no longer jails those arrested for possessing small amounts of pot. Instead, first-time offenders go to a diversion program and attend drug education classes.
That’s good news if you are charged with possession of marijuana in those counties. Nevertheless, it is still illegal to possess, sell, or grow marijuana in Texas, and a conviction for a felony marijuana sale or distribution charge can still land someone in a Texas state prison.
Marijuana laws in Texas are complicated, and the penalties for any pot conviction can be harsh, so anyone who is charged with a marijuana violation will need to consult right away with an experienced Plano criminal defense attorney. The possession of two ounces or less of marijuana in Texas is a Class B misdemeanor. A conviction for a first offense is punishable in most cases by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2000.
WHAT CONSTITUTES DRIVING WHILE INTOXICATED BY MARIJUANA?
As you might suspect, even when marijuana reform finally comes to Texas, it will continue to be against the law to drive a vehicle while under the influence of pot. In Texas today, even a trace of marijuana in a driver’s blood or urine constitutes driving under the influence of marijuana.
Because tetrahydrocannabinol or “THC,” the active ingredient in pot, stays in the blood for weeks after a marijuana high has faded, almost anyone driving in Texas who has smoked marijuana in the last thirty days or so could potentially be prosecuted for marijuana-DWI.
In Texas, whenever anyone is charged with driving while intoxicated by pot, it is dealt with legally just as if the person had been charged with driving while intoxicated by alcohol. Marijuana-DWI is a quite serious charge in this state, and defendants will need the top-quality legal representation that an experienced Plano criminal defense attorney can provide.
An adult convicted of a first marijuana-DWI offense in Texas faces penalties that include up to 180 days in jail, up to one hundred hours of community service, a driver’s license suspension for up to a year, a fine of up to $2,000, and an additional once-a-year driver’s license fee for three years.
A good criminal defense attorney will fight diligently to protect your rights and your freedom if you are charged with any marijuana-related crime in Texas. Especially when it comes to pot charges in Texas, you need a lawyer with abundant criminal defense experience and up-to-the-minute knowledge of legal trends and the most recent court rulings.
If you are charged with the possession, sale, or cultivation of marijuana, or if you are charged with marijuana-DWI, do not try to act as your own attorney. In Texas, too much is at stake. Have a good defense attorney advocate on your behalf.
According to CNN Money, marijuana is about to boom. The national marijuana market, worth $5.7 billion in 2015, is expected to increase to a value of $21 billion by 2020. Unfortunately, this year’s failure to act by this state’s elected lawmakers will keep legitimate Texas interests out of the flourishing marijuana business for at least two more years, since the Texas Legislature will not formally convene again until 2019.