50 States

50 States: Texas

By Jon Young

Medical: Yes (limited CBD-oil only)
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: Only in certain counties

“I’m just done with it. I’m done with people trying to take my freedoms, I smoke weed. You drink, it’s ten times worse,” Jonathan Davis said in what might be one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen after leading police on a high-speed car chase. Davis told reporters he was trying to get to San Antonio until they shot his car.

Davis, tired of being profiled by police and arrested for cannabis possession, complained that he was unable to get a normal job anywhere. A problem for many in Texas, as Texas boasts the highest arrest rate in the nation for cannabis possession.

Long considered too conservative to make any progress on cannabis reform, Texas took a first step in 2015 toward legalizing medical marijuana (MMJ) in limited forms—that is, a high CBD (cannabidiol), low THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil—to treat those suffering from uncontrollable seizures. But a major hurdle is in legally acquiring the oil. The current wording of the bill means physicians would have to “prescribe” cannabis instead of “recommend” it, which is the wording in other states with legal MMJ programs. Because cannabis is still federally illegal, doctors would risk losing their license. That said, the bill states that at least three licenses for dispensing oil must be issued by September 2017. 

In the two years since the bill passed, support for legalization has grown. Per findings of a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll released in February, 83 percent of Lone Star State residents support some measure of cannabis, with 53 percent supporting recreational. A previous poll in 2015 found overall support at 76 percent and 42 percent for recreational. As is typically the norm nationwide, legalization is more popular with Democrats, males and young people than with Republicans, females and Fox News-loving grandparents. For example, a majority of Texans aged 18 to 64 favor recreational legalization, while only 38 percent aged 65 and older share that view. 

Despite the success of the Compassionate Use Act (as the MMJ bill is titled), two other bills relating to cannabis were killed. One would have made cannabis fully legal for adults 21 and older, and the other would have decriminalized cannabis statewide. However, beginning January 1, 2016, those in Harris County (home to more than four million people) caught with less than two ounces of cannabis will now be offered a diversion course and/or community service for first offenses. They will not be taken to jail or receive the max $2000 fine if they stay clean and complete the chosen program.

"It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record," Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said. "When we don't offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program."

The decriminalization program is a positive direction away from incidents like this, where a police officer claimed to see “shake” on the floor of a marijuana activist’s car in order to give enough probable cause to search the vehicle without consent. The “shake” turned out to be Chex Mix crumbs the driver’s son was snacking on the day before. This is the state, after all, that needed a law to stop police officers from forcefully searching vaginas for cannabis without a warrant.

In another unprecedented move, a proposal to make Texas the fifth state in the union to legalize the recreational use of cannabis was approved by a bipartisan house panel led by Republican Representative David Simpson, who cited his Christian beliefs as reason to end prohibition.

“I don’t believe that when God made marijuana he made a mistake that the government needs to fix,” wrote Rep. Simpson in an op-ed. “Regrettably, that’s not the course we have pursued on more than one occasion. In the name of protecting the public, certain substances have been declared evil and contraband. So evil are these substances that state and federal agents are empowered to enforce laws with little to no regard for constitutional protections of individual rights, the sanctity of one’s home or the right to travel freely.”

While the proposal was killed before it reached the floor, it marks a changing tide in Texas as polls by the University of Texas and Texas Lyceum show 68 percent of Texans support decriminalization and less than 20 percent still support the full prohibition of cannabis.

Photo credit: Unsplash

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