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Drug Possession Charges in Texas & the Changing Attitudes Towards Marijuana: What You Should Know

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Texas has a reputation for a lot of things: a “go get em” attitude, a rebellious streak, an innovative spirit, and a drive for self-sufficiency and independence. The Lone Star State also has a reputation for its stringent drug possession laws and its conservative stance on controlled substances and narcotics. 

As the cultural tide shifts, however, and more states legalize recreational marijuana, overall acceptance spreads and state lawmakers are looking to make the case for it in their jurisdictions. In Texas, lawmakers have been making this appeal for several years, coming one step closer in 2019 when a bill passed the house but was dead on arrival in the Texas senate. 

So, where does Texas stand today on the use of recreational marijuana? How does this affect drug possession charges? The details are complicated. 

Let’s dig into the specifics. 

Background on Texas Drug Laws 

Drug laws have changed considerably in the past few decades. Marijuana laws are no different. In the Lone Star State, if you are found carrying 2 ounces or less of marijuana, you face a misdemeanor charge, up to 180 days in jail, and up to $2,000 in fines. If the amount is 2-4 ounces,  you face a misdemeanor charge with up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines. 

  • 4 ounces to 5 lbs is a felony with a minimum of 6 months and up to 2 years in jail and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 5-50 lbs is a felony with a minimum of 2 years and up to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine
  • 50-2000 lbs is a felony with a minimum of 2 years and up to 20 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. 
  • Over 2,000 lbs is a felony with a minimum of 5 years and up to 99 years in prison or life. 

And while this seems straightforward on the surface, the law can get convoluted as other factors come into play. Specifically, whether the state of Texas alleges the accused of manufacturing and delivering marijuana. 

Although it has a reputation for harsh drug laws, Texas was not always at the top of the list when it came to criminalizing some of these controlled substances. In the 1970s, Texas was almost the last state to treat certain marijuana possession amounts as a felony. Laws have changed since then, of course. The Texas Controlled Substances Act went into law in 1973, reported at the time as a reactionary move to the counterculture movement that espoused the use of drugs and had cultivated enough negative stereotypes of its effects to merit stringent legal action. The Act made it a crime to possess, distribute, or manufacture controlled substances and divided them into schedules based on their propensity for abuse.

The schedules look something like this: 

  • Schedule I: Substances for high potential for abuse that are not currently accepted for medical use. 
  • Schedule II: Substances with high potential for abuse that are deemed to lead to severe psychological and physical dependence. 
  • Schedule III: This is a lower potential for abuse but can lead to psychological or physical dependence 

The Changing Tides of Texas Marijuana Laws 

Even those steeped in the happenings of the Texas Legislature may have a hard time keeping up with the changes that have been occurring on the Texas drug law front for the past few years. For example, the move towards legalizing some forms of cannabis has slowly pushed the conversation towards leniency and acceptance, although not fully committed to decriminalization. 

In 2019, Texas lawmakers legalized some forms of the cannabis plant and this has led to marijuana prosecution cases lodged into a certain chaotic state. The change in the law has led to some inconsistency in enforcement, as some law enforcement ease off people who may have a minimal amount of possession. In some cases, this can vary slightly by where you live. 

Marijuana, Hemp, and CBD

Only a few years ago, Texas began to see hemp stores or CBD shops sprout up in every corner. So what’s the difference? The main distinguishing factor is how much THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) the substance contains, as this is the chemical that causes the psychoactive effects. So if the substance has less than .3% of THC concentration it is considered hemp and not marijuana. 

CBD, or cannabinol, is a non-psychoactive compound of cannabis, and can therefore be sold in the state as long as the concentration remains below the .3% threshold. Proponents of CBD, defend its uses against insomnia, anxiety, and depression. 

And while some claimed that this was one step closer to decriminalization, Governor Abbott and others suggested otherwise. 

Changes in Marijuana Prosecution After 2019

Despite the fact that Marijuana was not decriminalized, the law seemed to have some effect on the prosecutions. According to the Texas Tribune, marijuana prosecutions dropped by more than half since the legalization of hemp. This was due largely to the lack of resources by the state to actually test how much THC is in a given substance, which means that many cases are simply not able to move forward. 

Needless to say, the law has caused confusion, and instances of people facing drug possession charges when they were, in fact, carrying legal hemp have been reported. 

As reported, many Texas prosecutors are simply dropping low-level marijuana possession and ceasing the pursuit of new cases.

What Should Texans Expect When it Comes to Marijuana Laws?

Texas lawmakers continue to seek ways to lower and soften the marijuana drug possession charges in the state, but this has proved to be a slow progression. In April of 2021, the Texas House passed a bill that was 88-40 that would lower the criminal penalty for small amounts of marijuana and even provide a path for expunging records of such offenses off many Texans’ records. The bill reduces possession of 1 ounce to a Class C misdemeanor, but it faces an uphill battle in the Texas Senate. 

Have Questions About Marijuana Possession Charges? Call Us Today 

If you or a loved one are facing marijuana possession charges, you likely have a lot of questions. Every case is different and Texas law can get convoluted and confusing. Contact a professional attorney that can help you with the details. 

Call Joseph and Hartshorn today and get compassionate, competent legal counsel.

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