By: Mark Diaz
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How Likely is Cannabis Decriminalization in Texas?
It is a loaded question that is fraught with controversy. Still, more people than ever are asking if Texas cannabis laws will change as a result of national trends toward decriminalization. Data collected by the University of Texas reveals that voters advocate for a reduction in the severity of pot-related crimes.
In a survey, 83% of respondents were in favor of legalizing marijuana for medical use, while 60% supported relaxing the laws for recreational use of cannabis. If and when they do consider whether to decriminalize pot, lawmakers will carefully weigh the pros and cons.
Opponents assert that easing cannabis laws will increase societal costs stemming from higher addiction rates, drugged driving accidents, and second-hand smoke implications. There is also some evidence showing that there will be heightened levels of pot use by teens.
Proponents of marijuana decriminalization point out the economic boost and increased tax revenues in the states that allow recreational use. Plus, when marijuana is regulated, it is safer for the end user.
The debate on the likelihood of cannabis decriminalization in Texas continues, and state lawmakers frequently address bills via committee. However, there are no changes in the near future regarding amendments to existing laws. Therefore, the statutes are still strict and impose harsh punishments if you are convicted. Getting in touch with a Galveston County drug possession lawyer should be a priority for those facing cannabis possession charges, but some information on the laws is useful.
Current State of Texas Cannabis Laws In 2022
The nature of a drug offense is a combination of how the controlled substance is classified by state law, the amount of the drug, and the unlawful conduct related to it. There are four types of marijuana crimes in Texas:
- Possession means having control, use, custody, and management over marijuana. If the drugs are in a pocket or otherwise on your person, you are in actual possession. However, you could still face charges if you have constructive possession. Examples include marijuana in a bag, the glove box of your car, or even in the trunk.
- Delivery is the term Texas laws use for selling pot or trafficking in large amounts of marijuana. It is unlawful to transfer, give, exchange, or engage in other transactions involving pot.
- Manufacturing refers to any aspect of producing, storing, processing, or packaging a controlled substance. Cultivation is also against the law, which is the basis for many pot manufacturing arrests.
- Possession of drug paraphernalia is not specific to cannabis laws, but these charges often accompany an arrest for possession, trafficking, or cultivating pot.
While other drugs are classified into Penalty Groups under the Texas Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is not included in these categories. Marihuana, as it is spelled in the statute, is subject to a specific treatment.
Additional Facts About Marijuana Crimes
In the context of relaxing cannabis laws in Texas, one important fact to note is the distinction between decriminalization and legalization. To decriminalize an offense is to take it down a notch in terms of severity, such as reducing it from a felony to a misdemeanor – or lower-level offense within these categories. Another example of decriminalizing is reducing the penalties. Legalization is making a criminal offense no longer illegal.
Plus, some specific points are useful for gaining insight into Texas pot laws:
- Individuals with qualifying conditions and a proper prescription may use medical marijuana, but the statute is extremely restrictive. Only products with low levels of THC are allowed.
- As with other drug crimes, the charges are more serious when the activity occurs in a drug-free zone or involves a minor.
- Though not technically decriminalization of pot, officials in Austin, TX recently passed a resolution that affects enforcement. They will no longer arrest or ticket individuals for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
- If police search you and find a pipe that contains residue of cannabis, you could face charges for possession of drug paraphernalia AND marijuana possession.
Penalties for Cannabis Offenses
The above information is useful for understanding the crimes, but you will certainly want to know what sentencing you face if you are convicted of violating Texas marijuana laws. The starting point for penalties in these cases is how the charges are classified:
- If convicted for a Class B Misdemeanor like possession of under 2 ounces, a judge could sentence you to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine.
- Possession of 2 to 4 ounces of cannabis is a Class A Misdemeanor. Your sentence may include one year of incarceration and a maximum fine of $4,000.
- Selling .25 ounce to 5 pounds of marijuana is a State Jail Felony. If convicted, the court may order 180 days to two years imprisonment.
- You could be charged with a Third Degree Felony for possession of 5 to 50 pounds of marijuana. A conviction may lead to a mandatory minimum prison sentence of two years, though a judge could order up to 10 years.
- Sales of 5 to 50 pounds of cannabis is a Second Degree Felony that is also punishable by a mandatory minimum of two years imprisonment. However, the maximum sentence is 20 years.
- Trafficking in cannabis involving 50 to 2,000 pounds is a First Degree Felony in Texas. The mandatory minimum sentence is five years in prison, and a judge may sentence you to a maximum of 99 years in prison.
Existing Federal Law on Marijuana
No discussion of decriminalization would be complete without pointing out how federal statutes apply to pot possession, trafficking, and manufacturing. Cannabis is still a Schedule I drug under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, which means it has a high potential for abuse and no accepted use in medicine.
In certain cases, federal law takes precedence over Texas statutes. You might be charged with violating a federal statute or committing a drug offense on federal property, or other circumstances that would lead US government officials to arrest you. The penalties can be harsher than those under Texas statutes. For instance:
- Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. A second offense means up to three years of incarceration and a maximum fine of $5,000.
- If convicted of selling cannabis weighing 5 to 99 kilograms, you could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $1 million.
- It is a felony to cultivate marijuana, and the US statute uses the number of plants as a measurement. For a conviction for cultivating pot plants in an amount of 1,000 or more, you face 10 years to life in prison.
Defenses and Strategies in Drug Crimes Cases
Certain cannabis offenses may indeed seem minor because they involve minimum or no jail time. You might be tempted to plead guilty and accept the punishment. However, keep in mind that a conviction for a drug offense goes on your record. On the other extreme, some marijuana crimes are felonies with long prison terms and hefty fines. For these reasons, a solid defense strategy is mandatory. Options include:
- Factual defenses, such as disproving allegations of constructive possession
- Defenses based upon violations of your constitutional rights, including unlawful search and seizure
- Entrapment by law enforcement or government officials
Always remember that the prosecutor must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt for any criminal case, including drug offenses. When the evidence is weak or other factors apply, there may be another option for resolving the case: The government may be willing to negotiate a plea bargain for reduced charges, lenient punishment, or both.
Steps in the Legal Process
While you can count on your Galveston County drug possession lawyer to assist with all essential tasks, you may benefit from knowing the basic process of a criminal case.
- Arraignment is your first appearance in court, where the official charges are read and you enter a plea. You will also have the opportunity to arrange bail for your pretrial release.
- Pretrial activities include court appearances, status conferences, and discovery to obtain all evidence in the prosecution’s possession.
- During pretrial, your lawyer will also pursue all motions in your favor. A motion to dismiss the charges may be appropriate when police obtained evidence through an illegal search.
- The court will schedule a trial, during which the prosecution will go first to prove its case. Your attorney will fight the allegations and defend the charges, by presenting evidence, testimony, and arguments in your favor.
Discuss Defense Strategies With Our Galveston County Drug Possession Lawyer
Activists on both sides of the question will continue to focus on decriminalization under Texas cannabis laws, but those facing marijuana charges have more pressing concerns. It is critical to retain skilled legal counsel from the moment you are under investigation or arrest.
Criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz has extensive experience fighting for the rights of clients in Greater Houston and throughout Galveston County, including those charged with drug crimes. Please call our firm today at 409-515-6170 to set up a free consultation with our Galveston County drug possession defense lawyer.
Mark Diaz & Associates is a Criminal Defense Law Firm in Galveston, Texas representing clients throughout Galveston, Chambers and Harris Counties including but not limited to Tiki Island, Jamaica Beach, Texas City, League City, Alvin, Algoa, Santa Fe, Hitchcock, La Marque, Bayou Vista, Bacliff, San Leon, Dickinson, Kemah, Bolivar Peninsula, Clear Lake Shores, and Friendswood.