Texas is considered to be one of the most conservative states in the US and hardly a place where you’d expect marijuana reform to move forward. But this year, there might be a good chance.
While medical marijuana is sort of legal, the state’s program is very restrictive. SB 339 or the Texas Compassionate Use Act only allows the use of cannabis oil with THC lower than 0.5% for only a limited number of conditions. Because of this, only 3,519 Texans are registered in the state’s medical marijuana when in fact there should be around 2 million who are eligible, according to advocates.
There is a fair chance that patients in Texas can receive the proper cannabis medication they need this year, at a time when most states are looking at marijuana as a good source of desperately-needed tax money. Lawmakers on both sides are aware of this and thus there are now at least seven bills seeking to expand the Compassionate Use Program. In addition to this, Democratic Sen. José Menéndez of San Antonio recently revealed that he will push legislation that would also make more patients eligible, remove the THC limit and lower business fees.
Even the mere expansion of a medical marijuana program is not without opposition. When the list of qualifying conditions got expanded in 2019, Republican Sen. Brian Birdwell of Granbury remarked that he was concerned that the legislation was more of a “cliff” than a slippery slope. Birdwell further said that the direction could take the state to legalize recreational use and he won’t be comfortable going any further seeing what’s happening with cannabis reforms in Colorado, Washington and Oregon.
Overview of Texas Marijuana Laws
Texas has had a medical marijuana law since June 2015 but it only allows low-THC for seizures and 6 other conditions and although the penalties for possession was brought down in 1973, fines are still fairly steep and come with a prison sentence.
- Possession/Cultivation – Possession of up to 4 ounces is a misdemeanor while any amount exceeding is a felony. Growing marijuana gets the same penalties as possession in Texas and is based on the aggregate weight of the plants found.
- Less than 2 oz – a jail sentence of up to 180 days and maximum fine of $2000.
- Between 2 to 4 oz – a jail sentence of up to one year and maximum fine of $4000.
- Between 4 oz to 5 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days up to 2 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Between 5 to 50 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 2 years up to 10 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Between 50 to 2000 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 2 years up to 20 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- More than 2000 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 5 years up to 99 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Sale – Giving or selling up to 7 grams is a misdemeanor in Texas while any amount exceeding is already a felony.
- Giving away up to 7 grams – a jail sentence of up to 180 days and maximum fine of $2000.
- Selling up to 7 grams – a jail sentence of up to one year and maximum fine of $4000.
- Between 7 g to 5 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days up to 2 years and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Between 5 to 50 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 2 years up to 20 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- Between 50 to 2000 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 5 years up to 99 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
- More than 2000 lbs – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 10 years up to 99 and a maximum fine of $100,000.
- Selling to a minor – a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 2 years up to 20 and a maximum fine of $10,000.
History of Marijuana in Texas
El Paso was the first US city to have banned marijuana after a police officer got killed by a man who was allegedly under the influence. Laws started to tighten around 1919 when giving non-medical marijuana became a misdemeanor and in 1923, marijuana as a narcotic could no longer be bought at the pharmacy without a prescription. It was finally banned statewide in 1931.
Marijuana reform only moved forward for the first time after the prohibition when HB 447 brought down possession penalties from a felony down to a Class B misdemeanor. Typical for a conservative state in the South, it then took decades again before another pro-cannabis bill got passed. In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry signed HB 2391 which gave law enforcement the option to cite and release offenders caught possessing 4 ounces or less.
Proposals for the legalization of both medical and recreational marijuana were starting to get attention around 2015. Surprisingly enough, one of the first adult-use bills came from Tea Party-backed conservative representative David Simpson. HB 2165 even gained a majority of support in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee but eventually failed to move forward.
In the same year, the approval of the Texas Compassionate Use Act which allowed medical cannabis to a very limited degree. Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed SB 339, said that he still doesn’t support legalization and doesn’t even agree to using conventional marijuana for medical purposes. In 2019, the governor also signed HB 3703 which expanded the list of qualifying conditions and also HB 1325 which legalized CBD.
There were also a number of reforms that happened at county and municipal level in the last two decades which shows a growing acceptance of marijuana by the people and the inevitability of legalization. Harris County launched a First Chance Intervention Program in 2014 which gives an offender arrested for possession the chance to opt for a drug education class or perform community service to avoid a criminal conviction. This program was expanded further in 2017 to decriminalize up to 4 ounces as long as the offender attends a drug education class. A growing number of areas including Bexar county, Travis county, Austin, Dallas and El Paso have also adopted a cite-and-release program.
Marijuana home cultivation laws outside of Texas
How do Texas marijuana laws compare with home growing laws in other US states? Check out our post on Marijuana Growing Laws in the United States.
FAQs about marijuana legalization in Texas
No, adult-use cannabis is still illegal in Texas.
None. Home cultivation of recreational cannabis is not allowed in Texas.
Only cannabis oil with less than 0.5% THC is currently allowed in Texas.
There are already a number of pro-marijuana bills introduced for this year and it is likely that the state’s Compassionate Use Act may get expanded to drop the THC cap and make more patients eligible.
None. Home cultivation of medical cannabis is not allowed in Texas.
Residents are not allowed to cultivate marijuana, whether recreational or medical, at home in Texas.
Growing marijuana in Texas is strictly illegal for residents of all ages.
The two dozen bills currently filed in the legislature may be an indicator that the Lone Star state is seriously considering marijuana. Given that the possibility of federal legalization is already on the horizon, there’s very little reason for the state not to cash in on the proverbial billion-dollar nest especially at a time when it needs funds the most. A recent survey also showed that more than half of Texans are already in favor of marijuana, which means lawmakers will get the support they need. However, given the state’s conservative nature, only the expansion of the Compassionate Act into a full-fledged medical marijuana program may come to fruition this year.