50 States

50 States: Texas

By Jon Young

50 States: Texas

Medical: CBD only
Recreational: No
Decriminalized: In certain counties

June 27, 2018: A new University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that a majority of Texans now support legalizing recreational cannabis. While 31 percent limited their support to medical cannabis, 30 percent support legalizing small amounts and another 23 percent for any amount. That left only 16 percent who endorsed full cannabis prohibition. Equally interesting, 69 percent said they would support decriminalizing cannabis. Based on party lines, only 39 percent of Republicans would legalize recreational cannabis, but an impressive 62 percent support decriminalization. Speaking of which, the Texas Republican Party endorsed decriminalization and the Texas Democratic Party endorsed legalization earlier this month. 

What's Past Is Prologue

“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 all-time best interviews 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. This is a problem for many in Texas, which boasts one of the highest arrest rates in the nation for cannabis possession. After all, the Lone Star State claims the first major American city to prohibit cannabis (El Paso in 1915), and for much of the 20th century, cannabis offenses had the potential to result in life sentences. 

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: The state legalized a high-CBD (cannabidiol), low-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) oil to treat those suffering from uncontrollable seizures. As of January 2018, the state selected three companies to grow, process and dispense CBD oil to those who qualify. Unfortunately, only Texans with serious seizure disorders can participate. 

As seen elsewhere in the country, support for legalization has grown in Texas. Per findings of a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll released in February 2017, 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 and 42 percent, respectively. 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 in recent years. One would have made cannabis fully legal for adults 21 and older, and the other would have decriminalized cannabis statewide. However, Dallas, Travis and Harris are among the counties that made the move toward more sensible drug policies in regard to cannabis. As of December 2017, Dallas cops now issue citations (as opposed to arrests) for possession of less than four ounces, and Harris County gave first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces the option to take a diversion course and/or community service, though decriminalization expanded to four ounces and for all offenses in 2017. 

"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."

Travis County made a similar move to close out 2017. "I think we can all put on our Santa hats and take people off the naughty list today," stated Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. "I just think, possession of marijuana in small amounts is legal in I don’t know how many states now. But yet we had a practice that was marking people for life, particularly if you didn’t have the money to go through an expunction process, and begin to label them as criminals when what they’re doing is not illegal in many places in this country."

Decriminalization 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 2015 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 marked a changing tide in Texas that might soon put prohibition on its heels. 

Photo credit: Unsplash

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