Marijuana is not legal in Texas and most will still be arrested
No, marijuana hasn’t been legalized in Texas. There is a medical marijuana program but if you are reading this you probably don’t qualify. It also hasn’t been decriminalized, despite everything you see floating around Facebook these days.
Old news seems to be circulating about a committee in the Texas House of Representatives passing a bill to legalize marijuana. That would be former Rep. David Simpson’s bill HB 2165 which was passed out of committee during the 2015 legislative session. Unfortunately the legislative session ended before it could be heard, meaning that any marijuana legislation would have to start all over again in the 2017 legislative session.
There are currently no bills in the state legislature to legalize marijuana which most people would consider to be viable, meaning that they’re unlikely to pass. A joint resolution is currently pending in both the House (HJR 46) and Senate (SJR 17), and they would have to take a more costly course than a traditional bill.
These joint resolutions are amendments to the Texas constitution, and must be approved by a two-thirds majority in both chambers. They would then be put to a public vote in 2018. This by-passes Gov. Greg Abbott, who has stood firm against legalizing recreational marijuana, however the stronger passage requirements make it unlikely that either of these joint resolutions will be passed by the legislature. Should that happen however, a lot of money will need to be poured into a public information campaign if there’s any hope of success at the ballot box during a non-presidential year.
During the 2015 legislative session, the state legislature and governor did approve a medical marijuana bill, however it is restricted to only CBD extracts, and only children who have severe seizures may qualify. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which administers the program called the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP), has begun accepting license applications, which cost an initial non-refundable $7,356. Three licenses must be issued before September 1 this year, and costs to operate a dispensary will run into the millions.
There is hope for a whole plant medical cannabis program this year however. Identical bills have been introduced in both the Texas House (HB 2107) and Senate (SB 269) which activists are pushing very strongly. These two bills would greatly expand the Texas Compassionate Use Program to include patients with a number of debilitating ailments.
Conditions listed in the bills include cancer, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, hepatitis C, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, agitation of Alzheimer’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, autism, sickle cell anemia, severe fibromyalgia, spinal cord disease, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury or post-concussion syndrome, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Parkinson’s disease, muscular dystrophy, or Huntington’s disease.
Also qualifying would be any chronic medical condition which produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, severe pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms, or any other medical condition approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule or any symptom caused by the treatment of a medical condition that is approved as a debilitating medical condition by department rule.
These bills are currently waiting to be scheduled for hearings, however without strong support via phone calls from citizens in Texas, legislators likely not move them along fast enough to become law before the legislative session ends. Also of note is that medical patients from other states can and will be arrested for possession in Texas, despite having a medical card and documentation.
Lastly, you may have heard that if you’re carrying a small amount of marijuana, that you won’t get arrested for it. That will be the case beginning on March 1 if you’re in Houston or the surrounding areas of Harris County and carrying less than four ounces of marijuana. If you’re anywhere else in Texas, you can expect to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, meaning up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine for possessing two ounces or less. You’ll also lose your driver’s license for six months and have a criminal record.
Should you be fortunate enough to qualify for the new program in Harris County, you’ll only be required to attend a four-hour drug-education class and possibly pay a fee. There will be no arrest so long as you are not committing another crime at the same time. Possessing a legal firearm while in possession of marijuana will disqualify you as this is another charge. Upon completion of the program you will be clear with no criminal record, and you can go through the program multiple times.
There are two identical bills in the legislature right now which would set the penalty to a $250 fine for possession of an ounce or less of marijuana, including HB 81 in the House and SB 170 in the Senate. The good news is that Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, who filed HB 81, serves as the chair of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which will hear that piece of legislation, almost ensuring that it will be sent to the Calendars Committee to be scheduled for a hearing by the full House. A similar bill was passed out of committee in 2015, however the Calendars Committee never scheduled it to be heard by the Texas House of Representatives.
These bills will require that legislators hear from their constituents as well. You can find out who represents you and get their contact information here. Texans for Responsible marijuana policy also lists a number of things people can do in addition to making phone calls.
In all, 18 cannabis-related bills have been filed for the 2017 legislative session.