The Nueces County district attorney’s office made an announcement this month about how it will be handling certain marijuana cases. It will no longer be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases, which has come after a new law was passed that legalized hemp in the State of Texas. Any substance with a concentration of THC that’s below 0.3% is considered legal, but Texas crime labs don’t have the equipment needed to determine the actual amount of THC. That’s why District Attorney Mark Gonzalez (along with prosecutors in Bexar, Harris, and Fort Bend counties) signed a letter saying that they will no longer be accepting low-level pot cases that didn’t come with a lab test.
Past Legislation with Regard to Marijuana in Texas
The push toward expanded legalization of marijuana started in 2015, when State Representative David Simpson introduced House Bill 2165 that proposed the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes. Simpson was a conservative who had been backed by the Tea Party, and he made a religious case for cannabis by saying, “I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake that [the] government needs to fix.” This bill got a great deal of support from the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but it wasn’t passed when it hit the House Floor.
In June of that year, Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 339 (called the Texas Compassionate Use Act). It allowed for the use of low-THC cannabis oil (less than 0.5%) for the treatment of epilepsy. Abbott caveated his support by saying, “I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medical purposes.” The bill passed with a 26-5 vote in the Senate and a 96-34 vote in the House.
In 2019, the House of Representatives voted 98-43 to pass House Bill 63 (which wanted to make possession of up to one ounce of cannabis a Class C (instead of a Class B) misdemeanor. This eliminated the threat of jail time and reduced the fine to $500. The day after it was passed in the House, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said that he wouldn’t allow a vote in the Senate. In June of that year, Governor Abbott signed House Bill 1325. It legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp, which contains less than 0.3% of THC. It also legalized the possession and sale of hemp-derived CBD products without needing approval from a doctor.
Governor Abbott also signed House Bill 3703, which expanded the number of qualifying conditions that are eligible for treatment under the state’s low-THC medical cannabis program. Aside from epilepsy, the bill also included the following conditions:
- Terminal cancer.
- Multiple sclerosis.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Seizure disorders.
- Incurable neurological disorders (such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Disease).
In 2021, the medical program was expanded even further by raising the THC limit from 0.5% to 1% and by expanding the coverage to include all forms of cancer as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The original version of the bill allowed for a 5% THC limit, but it was lowered to 1% when it went through the Senate.
Recent Push to Reduce Marijuana Penalties in Texas
In April of this year, The Texas House passed a bill with an 88-40 vote that would reduce the criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana and would give people a way to have the charges expunged from their criminal records. This new law applies to the possession of one ounce or less. Before the law was passed, having up to two ounces of marijuana in your possession would be considered a Class B misdemeanor (which would be punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine). HB 411 was one of the many attempts to reduce the criminal penalties for marijuana possession throughout the state.
Despite the many attempts to reduce statewide criminal penalties, there have been efforts from several major cities and Texas counties to do so in their respective communities. In 2017, Dallas adopted a “cite and release” policy for possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana. The Bexar County District Attorney implemented the same policy that year. El Paso County started its “First Chance Program,” which allowed people who were caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana to pay a $100 fine and do 8 hours of community service. In 2020, the Austin City Council voted unanimously to eliminate all penalties for possessing up to 4 ounces of marijuana, and the Austin Police Department announced that it had revised its enforcement policies to comply with this resolution.
While Texas marijuana penalties have been reduced, you could still face criminal charges in the right circumstances. If you have been charged with a marijuana-related offense, you will need a criminal defense lawyer in Corpus Christi to help you with your case. And Gale Law Group has a team of qualified people who can help you with your case. Feel free to get in touch with us for more information about how we can help you!