By: Mark Diaz
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Recreational Use of Cannabis is Illegal in Texas
Cannabis is legal for recreational use in nearly twenty states in the U.S., in addition to Washington, D.C., and it is likely that many other states will be following their lead in the not-so-distant future. That being said, Texas will almost certainly not be one of those states following the rest’s lead in legalizing marijuana; presently, Texas completely bans cannabis for any use other than by a qualifying patient with a valid prescription.
In addition to legalizing marijuana, many jurisdictions have alternatively decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Without specific legislation decriminalizing cannabis, the governing law regarding punishment for possession of marijuana in Texas would be the Texas Controlled Substances Act. The Act imposes harsh punishment for a conviction for marijuana possession in comparison. Larger amounts of the drug and other factors could lead to an arrest for drug manufacturing or trafficking, and the charges could range from a serious misdemeanor to a high-level felony.
Aside from this brief explanation of the prohibition of recreational cannabis, Texas drug laws are quite complicated as they relate to marijuana. The statutes even classify it separately, adding further confusion for those who do not have a legal background. If you were arrested for violating controlled substances laws, retaining experienced legal counsel should be a priority. Texas drug crime defense lawyers are well-versed in the details, but here is what you should know about the recreational use of cannabis in Texas.
Table of Contents
Overview of Texas Drug Laws
Generally speaking, state statutes on controlled substances are a product of the type of drug, the amount, and what you were doing with it. A description of each of these factors is helpful for understanding how the laws work.
Texas follows the basic structure of federal law, which categorizes controlled substances into Schedules; however, at the state level, the system classifies drugs into Penalty Groups 1-4. The categories with low numbers are more likely to cause addiction and have no accepted use in the medical profession. Examples of controlled substances in Penalty Group 1 include heroin and cocaine. Classes with higher numbers are less addictive and may have medical usage via prescription, such as Valium and Ritalin.
Marijuana is in its own Penalty Group in Texas and it is illegal in all forms. The laws take the approach that marijuana can be addictive, but there are some accepted applications in the field of medicine. In fact, Texas does allow marijuana for medical purposes under the Compassionate Use Program. Still, recreational cannabis remains unlawful.
Volume, Weight, or Amount
The next area of inquiry with a drug case is how much of the controlled substance was involved with illegal activity. With any controlled substance, there is a wide range of derivatives, compounds, and other ways of processing them for the end-user. In a case involving marijuana, law enforcement will assess the usable amount according to “the plant Cannabis sativa L., whether growing or not, the seeds of that plant, and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of that plant or its seeds.” Texas Controlled Substances Act § 481.002(26).
Drug-Related Criminal Activity
The uses, applications, and other unlawful activities related to marijuana are also an important component of a criminal case. Texas penalizes the following conduct:
- Marijuana Possession: You could be arrested for cannabis possession even for two ounces or less, and keep in mind that the key definitions are expansive. Actual possession means carrying the drugs on your person; constructive possession pertains to having the drug in a place that enables you to exercise custody and/or control. As such, charges may stem from having marijuana in a bag or the glove box of your vehicle.
- Manufacturing Marijuana: The term ‘manufacturing’ can cover a broad array of activities involved with growing, cultivating, harvesting, processing, storing, compounding, and almost any other tasks related to the production of marijuana.
- Marijuana Trafficking: It is unlawful to sell cannabis, but the trafficking law applies to many other forms of misconduct. A person could be arrested for distributing, transporting, delivering, and even gifting marijuana for no payment.
Additional Facts About Marijuana Crimes in Texas
After reviewing a summary of Texas cannabis laws, you might find it useful to review some details.
- The Texas Controlled Substances Act actually uses/spells the word as “marihuana,” which is helpful to know when you are conducting online searches about possession, trafficking, and manufacturing. As is detailed in much of this article, another way to spell the word is “marijuana.” Nonetheless, Texas law explicitly lists the word distinctly. Both are commonly accepted spellings of the word, but the distinction between the spellings may assist you in online searches on the issue in Texas.
- While marijuana has its own Penalty Group, the statutory provisions focus on the usable parts of the plant for purposes of assigning charges. When someone processes marijuana into certain derivatives or compounds, these substances could be classified under Penalty Group 2. Any criminal activity related to a Penalty Group 2 drug is a felony and punished much harsher than marijuana in its own Penalty Group.
- Besides possession, trafficking, and manufacturing marijuana, it is also illegal to sell, produce, or deliver drug paraphernalia. Numerous household goods could be considered drug paraphernalia in the context of surrounding circumstances and what law enforcement in that moment perceive as the intended use.
Harsh Penalties for Violating Cannabis Laws
Possession of marijuana is generally considered to be the least harmful of drug crimes, so you could be charged with a Class B Misdemeanor if you have any amount of the drug, so long as it is less than two ounces. A conviction could lead to a maximum of 180 days’ incarceration and a $2,000 fine. For amounts between 2 ounces but under four ounces, the offense is a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Convictions for drug crimes, even marijuana, should not be taken lightly. Texas drug crime convictions lead to license suspensions, reinstatement fees, and even having to complete a Texas approved Drug Offender Course before DPS will reissue you your license again in some circumstances.
Options for Fighting Drug Crime Cases
As with any criminal matter, there are defenses available to fight marijuana possession, trafficking, and manufacturing charges. Your Texas drug crime defense lawyer may employ such strategies as:
- Fighting the Prosecutor’s Case: The government must prove each element of a drug crime case beyond a reasonable doubt, the highest standard of proof in the U.S. legal system. There are multiple opportunities to poke holes in the prosecutor’s evidence and cross-examine witnesses to expose weaknesses.
- Unlawful Search and Seizure: If police arrested you after an illegal search, all evidence they seize from you is inadmissible in court. Without this critical proof, the prosecution may not be able to meet its burden of proof.
- Evidence Issues: Considering the importance of weight and amount in a case for marijuana possession, manufacturing, or delivering, it is critical to assess the minute details. The crime lab might state that the weight was # pounds, but that may include superfluous materials that should not be considered in levying charges. You are entitled to have the evidence evaluated by your own expert, which could expose inconsistencies by the government.
Other Strategies for Resolving Drug Charges
In many cases, it is not possible to present a complete defense that defeats the charges and results in either a dismissal or acquittal. However, there may be ways of resolving the case in a way that avoids the harshest punishment. For instance:
- You may qualify for probation in a Texas drug case, and a judge is required to order community supervision for certain defendants without a criminal history. Other individuals may be awarded probation on a discretionary basis.
- There is a Texas Drug Court for resolving charges related to controlled substances, and the proceedings focus on substance abuse treatment for those addicted to drugs.
- You might be able to work out a plea bargain with the prosecution, which could make a big difference in a case that takes a felony to a misdemeanor. Your punishment will be reduced and your record will not reveal a felony conviction, but you must plead guilty and serve your sentence.
Consult With Our Texas Drug Crime Defense Lawyers About Your Rights
This summary covers a lot of what you should know about the recreational use of cannabis, but there are many other details that are important when it comes to defending your interests. Even a misdemeanor can lead to jail time, and the prison terms are much longer for felony convictions.
To learn more about strategies for fighting marijuana possession, trafficking, and manufacturing crimes, please contact criminal defense attorney Mark Diaz at 409-515-6170. We can schedule a free consultation with a Galveston County drug possession defense lawyer who can review your situation and provide personalized advice. Our firm serves Greater Houston and Galveston County, and we are happy to help.