If you’re planning a cannatastic road trip across America’s 420-friendly states, Texas is most likely not on your map – and for good reason: the Lone Star State has proudly stood on the front line of the ‘war on drugs’ for years.
The current laws
As a Houston Chronicle op-ed put it earlier this year, ‘Texas’ current pot laws are medieval and arguably the most severe in the country’. Cannabis is illegal in the state for recreational purposes, and effectively for medical use too (see below).
The penalties for possession in Texas are extremely harsh: possessing less than 2oz is a class B misdemeanor, which carries a fine of up to $2000k and a jail term of up to six months.
Like a lot of conservative states, Texas has made a concession of sorts to allowing medical use of cannabis, with the Compassionate Use Act, enacted in 2015. However, the bill is extremely restrictive, permitting only extremely low-THC cannabis oil, for use only by epilepsy patients, from a limited number of dispensaries, only via prescription, which most doctors won’t provide, since the DEA have indicated this remains a federal crime. So don’t visit Texas expecting to see the sort of ‘dispensaries’ we used to see in Colorado and California back in the day: even epilepsy patients who could benefit from medical marijuana treatment are seriously struggling to access it.
The sale and consumption of CBD products – so long as they’re made from legally-grown hemp, and with a THC content below 0.3% – is legal in all 50 states, including Texas. This is part of what makes the Texan legislation on medical marijuana so crazy: it essentially restricted permissible products to something any Texan could already, legally buy online.
You’d be forgiven for some confusion about this. Just a couple of months ago, the Texas health department put forward a proposal to ban the sale of all CBD products in the state – but such was the public outcry that the policy was quickly shelved.
However, the CBD industry remains unregulated, with many misleading and untested products out there. Choose a reputable CBD retailer who provides transparency about their products, and be sure to read the reviews before you buy.
Arresting and prosecuting everyone caught with so much of a gram of weed comes at a price: the ACLU estimated that in 2010 alone, the state of Texas spent more than 250 million dollars of taxpayers’ money on marijuana possession cases. Meanwhile, states that have legalized are not only making a saving – they’re capitalizing on new jobs in the tens of thousands and economy activity in the billions.
What about the red states? Well, last week Texas’ neighboring Oklahoma – yes, you read that right, Oklahoma – voted last week to legalize marijuana for medical use, in a ballot bill allowing far greater freedom than the Texan Compassionate Use Act. It’s yet another sign that access to medicinal cannabis is now a mainstream issue.
So is Texas likely to wake up and follow suit any time soon? It would be a popular move: a poll by the University of Texas found that over half the population would support legalization of possession in small quantities, with 84% of Texans in support of full legalization for medical marijuana, and 69% supportive of reduced penalties for possession.
But sadly, unlike Oklahaoma, the Great State of Texas doesn’t allow ballot initiatives to put such issues directly to voters. Only elected representatives can change the law in Texas.
Carl Gibson, the author of that Houston Chronicle piece we linked to above, sees this as an opportunity for the Democrats, suggesting that young voters, and in particular people of color – who make up the majority demographic in 40% of voting precincts in Texas, and are also around 4x more likely than white people to go to jail for drug possession, despite similar levels of use – might be attracted to strong Democratic candidates seeking to unseat Republicans in the Texas legislature.
However, there actually appears to be a measure of cross-party support for some of the probable next steps. Last month the Republican Party of Texas, which controls around two thirds of the state legislature, met for their state convention. There, although medical cannabis was not listed as a priority for the upcoming legislative session, 82% of delegates voted to support the expansion of the Compassionate Use Act – and 83% indicated that they were in favor of lowering the penalty for possession, in cases of an ounce or less.
So no, it’s hardly California. But give it time.