By: Mark Diaz
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What Impact Will Texas Medical Cannabis Law Have On Recreational Cannabis?
Texas laws on cannabis are in flux, and there is considerable confusion about what is legal and what is not. Since 2019, the state legislature has legalized some forms of marijuana, but things are changing. Generally, medical marijuana is legal in limited circumstances in Texas, but recreational cannabis possession is still illegal, and can still be prosecuted. However, certain jurisdictions have chosen not to enforce those laws to the fullest extent, but many still do.
Keep reading for the latest updates on the state’s stance on medical cannabis and recreational cannabis. If you have been charged with drug possession or a related crime, contact our drug possession lawyers in Harris County at Mark Diaz & Associates for legal assistance. Marijuana possession is not charged as often today, but it is still possible, and the consequences of a conviction are severe. Our criminal defense attorneys know how to find weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case that could lead to a reduction of charges and even dismissal.
Medical Cannabis – The Texas Compassionate Use Program
The state legislature passed the Compassionate Use Act in 2015, which made it legal to use low-THC cannabis in medical products for patients with certain types of epilepsy. The law was expanded in 2019 and again in 2021 to include other medical conditions. According to the law, ‘low-THC cannabis’ means the plant Cannabis sativa L and any part of it that does not contain more than 1% by weight of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Today, the compassionate use law allowing for the use of medical cannabis applies to the following medical conditions:
- Seizure disorder
- Incurable neurodegenerative diseases
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
- Multiple sclerosis
To receive a prescription for medical cannabis to treat these conditions, you must be a permanent resident of Texas. Also, the benefits of the medical use of cannabis must outweigh the risks and only can be determined by a physician. There are not any age restrictions, but anyone under 18 could need the permission of a legal guardian or parent.
More recently, in April 2023, the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill that would authorize doctors to prescribe medical cannabis to patients as an alternative to opioids for chronic pain. The bill also would replace the 1% THC limit for cannabis oil. However, the bill has not passed into law at this time.
What Is Legal In Texas Regarding Marijuana Possession?
It is still illegal in the state to use or possess recreational marijuana and has been since 1931. A small amount of marijuana is generally under two ounces and can be punished by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. Therefore, the only legal cannabis possession is medical marijuana in the limited circumstances described earlier. Also, the state legalized hemp recently and kept marijuana illegal, which has led to even more confusion.
While marijuana and hemp may look and smell the same, they are different. The legal difference is the amount of THC in each. Under current law, marijuana is defined as a cannabis plant with a THC concentration above .3%. If the plant has less THC than .3%.
Also, cannabidiol oil, also called CBD, is sold in Texas legally as long as the THC concentration is under .3%. Supporters claim CBD oil helps with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other conditions.
Since the laws have changed, many prosecutors and crime laboratories have dropped pending recreational marijuana possession charges and do not charge new ones. This is because it is difficult for the government, with financial constraints, to detect how much THC is in the plant.
While some in the state think recent law changes decriminalized recreational marijuana, Governor Greg Abbott has maintained that is not the case. That said, it is a fact that marijuana possession charges in Texas dropped by more than 50% after the new law legalizing hemp took effect.
However, some Texas jurisdictions are not as lenient on marijuana possession cases. This is often the case if it is a subsequent offense or involves marijuana delivery. In some localities, a short stint in jail and a driver’s license suspension are possible.
There are many confusing aspects regarding the state’s current approach to recreational marijuana. So, the following FAQs may clarify the matter:
How Is Recreational Marijuana Possession Prosecuted?
In Texas, the law still allows Harris County prosecutors to press charges against people for possessing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. It is possible to receive jail time and a fine. However, as noted earlier, recreational marijuana possession cases have dropped significantly in the last several years.
Elsewhere, 11 states and Washington, D.C., have made recreational marijuana legal. In these states, marijuana possession and use are regulated, but users are not sanctioned under state law for using it.
Further, at least 10 other states have entirely or partially decriminalized some types of marijuana possession. While using the drug might still be illegal, prosecutors do not typically press charges. Offenders could face civil penalties, however.
How Do Texas Counties Approach Recreational Marijuana?
Some prosecutors in Texas do not press charges of possessing small amounts of marijuana and may not pursue new cases. However, you still could be charged in some cases in Harris County, so contact Mark Diaz & Associates if you are.
Before the new hemp law took effect, police in Harris County and others stopped arresting most people for carrying small amounts of marijuana on an initial offense. Instead, they could receive a citation for possessing a small amount.
In June 2019, the Texas Department of Public Safety told its officers not to arrest people for marijuana possession and only to give citations. Also, the Austin City Council voted in 2020 to end most fines and arrests for those who possess a small amount of cannabis. But the Austin police chief responded to that change, stating his department would still issue fines and arrest people.
Can I Still Be Arrested For Recreational Marijuana Use In Texas?
Yes, you can still be arrested in Texas because it is illegal. But some prosecutors may be less likely to file such charges than in the past. However, you should retain a criminal defense attorney if you have been arrested. Even today, a conviction for a small amount of marijuana possession can have serious consequences. For example, your driver’s license could be suspended, and you could not pass an employer’s background check.
Is CBD Oil Legal In Texas?
Yes, but these products are not closely tested or monitored by the FDA, so there is insufficient quality control regarding the ingredients and THC levels. So, it is theoretically possible you could use an illegal THC product in Texas, so caution is warranted.
Can You Be Arrested For Possession In Texas If You Bought Marijuana in Colorado?
Yes. Just because cannabis is legal in other states does not mean you can carry it legally into Texas. Many reports have reported marijuana arrests on highways between Denver, Colorado, and major cities in Texas. The best action is to use the marijuana products you purchased in the state where they are legal and not carry them into Texas.
Where Can I Buy Medical Marijuana In Texas?
You only can buy it from licensed cultivators in the state that produce low-THC cannabis. You cannot legally grow it yourself or buy it from a friend who is not a licensed cultivator.
Will Texas Eventually Legalize Recreational Marijuana?
Texas often goes its own way on many things, but the success of decriminalizing marijuana possession elsewhere in the US has an effect on the state’s laws. As noted in this article, there are signs that some Texas prosecutors may not charge some cases of marijuana possession, and law enforcement in certain localities may not arrest you. So, recreational cannabis may be legalized in Texas eventually. In the meantime, however, it is essential to remember that it is still illegal to possess, so you should retain an attorney if you are charged.
What Sentence Can You Get For Marijuana Possession Today?
If you possess two ounces or less of recreational marijuana, it is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $2,000. Possession of two to four ounces is a Class A misdemeanor, and you can receive up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Possessing four to five pounds is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.
How Might An Attorney Fight A Marijuana Possession Charge For Me?
The state must prove you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They must show that the drug was in your possession and you had control and dominion over it. This usually means you carried the drug or paraphernalia, or your prints were on the container. If possible, a skilled attorney will attempt to poke holes in the notion that you had ‘possession’ of the drug. Also, many police officers make procedural errors during the arrest process that could help your cause.
Contact Our Drug Possession Lawyers In Harris County
Recreational marijuana is still illegal in Texas. If you have been charged with marijuana or drug possession in Texas, you need legal assistance immediately. Our drug possession lawyers in Harris County at Mark Diaz & Associates can help, so please call (409) 515-6170.