When you hear the words "Texas" and "marijuana," it might not seem like the most intuitive match. Given its current strict stance on cannabis (both medical and recreational weed are still illegal), it's hard to connect the dots between the two.
The southern state is known for its conservative values, which typically coincide with an anti-weed stance. However, Texas and marijuana have a long history together, and might even have a future intertwined as well, according to upcoming legislation.
The History of Texas and Marijuana
Cannabis has had a fairly turbulent history, with many highs (get it?) and lows. There once was as time, not too long ago, where the herb was legal throughout the United States. That all changed, however, once Texas got involved.
There's been a pretty linear timeline of cannabis' decline in Texas.
To start things off, the city of El Paso banned marijuana in 1915 – the first-ever U.S. city to do so. A man had killed a police officer in Mexico, and police officers were blaming weed for the attack. The lore traveled, thanks to a sheriff-led anti-marijuana campaign, which sparked a movement. He claimed that all of the crime and deceit in El Paso could be sourced back to use of marijuana – a direct result of weed. Though primarily fueled by racism and fear – blaming bordering Mexicans and Mexican-Americans for addiction and overuse, marijuana had gained a dangerous reputation. El Paso was the first of many cities to bring weed use to a halt.
Following suit in 1919, marijuana across the entire state of Texas was restricted to prescription-only use along with all other narcotics, putting a limit on who could consume it and why. And before long, in 1923, it was completely prohibited state-wide to possess any narcotics, including cannabis.
The big rage on marijuana came in 1931, when Texas declared that the possession of cannabis was a big enough offense to land people in jail – allowing up to life sentences. Texas was the only state in the entire U.S. where a cannabis conviction faced life in prison. This had damaging effects on the state, as the number of marijuana arrests increased dramatically – between 1970 and 1975, weed-related arrests increased by 226 percent.
Being able to spend an entire lifetime in jail over any amount of weed was possible until 1973, when the state amended the law; four ounces or less was only equivalent to a misdemeanor offense from there.
Texas and marijuana have remained in a committed-to-be-strained relationship. As other states across the U.S. have worked to decriminalize cannabis and implement medical marijuana programs, Texas has remained several paces behind the rest.
Marijuana usage is still criminalized in the state. Possession, sale, possession of paraphernalia, and distribution can all be charged as felonies, contingent on how the amount in question. Any amount of weed, though, can result in a criminal record, fines, and time in jail.
However, in 2015, some progress was made. In June of 2015, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the Texas Compassionate Use Act. This bill began a new chapter for cannabis in the state: now, qualifying consumers are able to use low-THC CBD oil.
While seemingly monumental, Texas actually didn't budge much with their anti-weed stance. First, the qualifying conditions are extremely limited. And to get a doctor's recommendation and prescription, it takes a lot of work. Then, access-wise, there aren't dispensaries all over the place – it's difficult to obtain the product. And, it's limited only to oil, which limits consumers and what they may require.
In fact, Abbot said this upon signing the act: "I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes."
Bare minimum? Maybe. But it's what Texas has.
There has been some talk of weed reform, at least by constituents, for several years. Starting in 2011, "Marijuana Lobby Day" has been hosted and pressed to the legislature every two years. The first year, 25 people came. In 2013, there were 50. 2015, 300. And then, the latest in 2017, resulted in 375 people there to show their support for marijuana legalization.
Later, HB 2165 made waves in 2015, when state representative David Simpson proposed the legalization of recreational marijuana. He made a religious call to action, reasoning that God doesn't make mistakes, and that cannabis wasn't one for the government to fix. The measure had a lot of support, but didn't make it to the floor for the legislative session.
In 2017, public support for weed seemed to come in tidal waves. An online petition was created on Change.org in March, demanding both recreational and medical legalization. The cause gathered over 39,000 signatures, demonstrating public demand.
Then, later that year, the Texas Legislature was undeniably close to allowing change. House Bill 2107, which would've decriminalized the possession of an ounce of weed or less, was close to passing, but failed being scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
There's been whispers of change in the wind. Texas and marijuana might soon get the counseling they need, especially after the so-close-but-not-close-enough decriminalization battle of 2017.
The prefiling process of bills for 2019's Legislature began in November 2018, and reports have shown more than a dozen marijuana-related bills being filed. According to the Dallas Observer, most of these aim at improving the state's relationship with weed, focused on things like "sentencing equity, therapeutic use, or, again, decriminalizing or reducing penalties for low-level possession."
In the same vein, current Governor Abbott admitted that he could be open to reducing the penalty for cannabis possession. He'd be okay with moving possession of up to an ounce from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor, which would remove the jail aspect – akin to a speeding ticket. The attitude seems to be shifting, in that political leaders now don't want to see jail cells filling up on petty possession crimes.
B to C would change the future of sentencing, but would leave those who have been incarcerated with future damages (a criminal record, iffy ability to qualify for loans, or pass background checks), though there is room for growth.
Another big change on the veranda is a proposal by the name House Bill 186, which hopes to change the way Texas law determines its marijuana penalties. As it stands, the amount of weed you're caught with is weighed, and that is how you're charged – rather than by potency. The Dallas Observer explained, "If you get caught with, say, a batch of pot brownies, you can be sentenced for the total weight of the brownies, rather than the amount of psychoactive chemicals the baked goods actually contain."
House Bill 186 would hopefully level out the playing field, and make penalties more fair; brownies with 10 milligrams of THC shouldn't be treated the same as eight ounces that weigh the same, and this measure aims to remove the disparity.
Another proposal is one to amend and reform the 2016 Compassionate Use Act, and make things easier for both consumers and doctors. It's slow-going, but there is room for hope in small, incremental pieces as the legislative season looms closer.
Room for Growth
Texas and marijuana have a complicated history. Though mostly negative and restrictive, the state has potential to grow and move forward. With the 2019 legislative season coming up, there are signs of progress around the corner, hopefully making up for years of promoting an anti-weed culture.
Update: In April 2019, the Texas House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Anyone caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would be subject to a $500 fine instead of the jail time they would have gotten under previous Texas marijuana law. Soon after the House passed it, the Senate dismissed it. The decriminalization bill is “dead” for now.
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