Gov. Greg Abbot recently announced that he would sign a bill which reduced possession of a small amount of marijuana from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor.
Over the past several sessions, numerous House lawmakers have introduced various legalization bills. But none of them even made it to a floor vote. Even if such a bill cleared the House, the more conservative Senate would almost certainly kill it. But with Gov. Abbott's limited endorsement, marijuana activists hope the next session will be different. Public opinion polls show considerable support for legalization, but law enforcement groups remain staunchly opposed. "There needs to be some reasonable penalties, because we still view marijuana as an absolute gateway into the drug scene," remarked Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback. He's also a spokesperson for the Sheriffs' Association of Texas.
Texas law enforcement agencies log roughly 60,000 marijuana possession arrests per year.
Marijuana Laws in Texas
When it comes to marijuana laws, Texas is pretty much the reddest of the red states. The Lone Star State has one of the narrowest medical marijuana laws in the nation. People can only use very low levels of THC for a handful of conditions. Not surprisingly, the possession law is very stiff. Possession of even 0.001 grams of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor if that amount constitutes a "usable quantity". So, if a used butt has even one or two grains of unburned weed and is usable, that's a Class B misdemeanor.
Officers often assume that a smoked or partially-smoked joint has at least some unburned marijuana. However, that's not necessarily the case. A defense attorney can insist that the state parse and weigh the marijuana in the joint. The test outcome is often much different.
Legal possession may be an issue as well. For example, if "Dan" is in the back seat of a car, it's difficult to connect him with a dime bag that was in the glove compartment. If Dan did not know the driver or owner of the vehicle very well, his defense is even stronger.
Why Does Law Enforcement Oppose Legalization?
The "gateway" argument has been around for a long time. The evidence is mostly anecdotal, but it is there. Recent events have breathed new life into this argument. Many former opioid painkiller addicts move onto heroin when they seek a greater high or after their doctors cut off their pain pills.
There is another aspect here as well. Law enforcement groups generally oppose legalizing conduct just because it is common. They argue that public opinion polls are not a good way to determine these matters, and they may be right.
But money may be the real reason law enforcement groups like strict marijuana laws. 60,000 arrests a year means lots of work for police officers, lots of revenue in terms of fines and court costs, and lots of jail inmates. If the money and work dried up, agencies like the Jackson County Sheriff's Office might be looking at cutbacks. Nobody likes that.
Marijuana laws in Texas might be changing after all, but don't hold your breath. For a free consultation with an experienced criminal defense attorney in Weatherford, contact Herreth Law. We are available for consultations 24/7/365.