While it is still illegal to possess or use recreational marijuana in Texas, medical cannabis is legal in very limited circumstances. In 2015, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act to legalize medical marijuana. Compared to other states in the United States, this Act is considered the most restrictive medical marijuana legislation. Presently, Texas is one of the 14 states with no effective medical marijuana law. It is also in the league of states that still impose jail time for simple possession of marijuana. Texas law permits prosecutors to press criminal charges against persons caught with small amounts of recreational marijuana. It is also illegal to manufacture, sell, or use marijuana paraphernalia in Texas.
The Compassionate Use Act permitted the first legal use of low-THC marijuana-infused products in Texas for medical patients with critical epilepsy. In 2019, however, the Texas Legislature expanded the list of qualifying medical conditions for medical cannabis through HB 3703. This legislation allowed the three dispensaries in the state to expand and establish a research program to study the effects of marijuana as a medical treatment. Currently, eligible medical conditions for medical cannabis in the state include epilepsy, spasticity, autism, multiple sclerosis, and a seizure disorder. Others are terminal cancer, an incurable neurodegenerative disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In 2021, HB 1535 further extended the Compassionate Act Use Program to medical patients with post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) and all sorts of cancer. Initially, the state permitted only medical marijuana with not more than 0.5% THC weight as legal. However, HB 1535, which became effective on September 1, 2021, raises the maximum level of THC from 0.5% to 1%. It allows registered doctors to prescribe low-THC medical marijuana to medical patients with qualifying medical conditions or meet specific criteria.
While not much has been done on legalizing recreational marijuana in Texas, in 2019, the Texas Legislature passed HB 1325. This bill made the possession and sale of compliant hemp-derived products legal, as well as the cultivation of hemp containing less than 0.3% THC legal in Texas.
To qualify for the Texas medical marijuana program, a patient must be at least 18 years and a permanent state resident. Patients under 18 years require their parents or legal guardians to apply on their behalf to be eligible for this program. However, a qualified physician must first evaluate any prospective patient to determine if they would benefit from low-THC cannabis. Medical patients do not require medical marijuana cards to get medical cannabis in Texas. If a qualified physician determines that a patient can benefit from the medical marijuana program, they will register such a patient on the Compassionate Use Registry of Texas (CURT). Texas sees medical cannabis as a prescription medication. However, only physicians registered with the CURT can write prescriptions for approved patients. Medical patients can visit any specially licensed pharmacy dispensary to get cannabis. They will need to provide their last name, date of birth, photo identification, and the last five digits of the social security number to purchase medical marijuana. A felon who meets the criteria of the medical marijuana program in Texas may use medical cannabis.
According to the polls conducted by the University of Texas at Tyler and the Dallas Morning, 55% of registered voters in Texas support the legalization of recreational marijuana. Also, 72% support the legalization of marijuana for medical use. Texas, the second most populous state after California, has a population of over 29 million residents, according to the U.S Census data for 2021, with over 20 million persons aged 21 and older.
Individuals and advocacy groups championing the cause to legalize recreational marijuana in Texas believe the move will create economic growth through job creation, income generation, and potential savings. They also reiterate that legalizing the recreational use of cannabis can also become a source of revenue for the government through taxation and a far less dangerous alternative to opioids.
Should Texas permit the recreational use of marijuana, advocates believe that the state could garner over $397 million annually in revenue from sales and excise tax, according to this report, to support essential public programs. Also, legalizing recreational cannabis can create over 40,000 jobs in Texas and reduce criminal justice costs.
There would be fewer marijuana-related arrests hence, fewer costs incurred in prosecuting misdemeanor cannabis cases. The Texas Office of Court Administration reported that by the end of May 2022, there were 30,587 cases on the docket for marijuana possession, with over 27,000 cases still pending. In addition, the average number of marijuana possession charge cases between January 2022 and May 2022 stood at 1,745. Therefore, legalizing marijuana can end the costly enforcement of arresting individuals for marijuana possession and free up police resources. Texas expenses on small possession of marijuana in 2022 include:
Cost of operating jail under the TDCJ, which is about $61.63 per day per offender
Cost of transporting the individual to jail and the cost of returning to the officer's patrol area
Up to four hours during a marijuana arrest
Cost of analyzing and testing marijuana in a case exhibit at the crime labs regardless of the case outcome
Time lost prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases instead of serious crimes such as burglary
The cost to the county for a court-appointed defense for an indigent defendant
The court costs
Legalizing recreational marijuana can save millions of taxpayers' dollars annually for criminal justice expenses, eliminating unnecessary arrest and prosecution expenses.
The Compassionate Use Act legalized medical CBD oil, an extract of marijuana, for medical use in 2015. This Act is one of the most restrictive marijuana legislations in the United States. However, recreational use of the drug is still prohibited in the state. CBD oil legalization for medical use in Texas does not seem to impact the state's crime rates directly since 2015.
The illicit sale and manufacturing of marijuana accounts for 7.7% of all drug sales, while the illegal possession of marijuana accounts for over 31% of drug possession charges in Texas for 2020. The Texas drug report shows that marijuana was the most illegal drug seized by law enforcement officers in 2020. Marijuana accounted for 78% of all drugs seized at over 125,000 pounds. Also, 5,334 marijuana plants from 89 gardens, 75 greenhouses, 53 cultivated fields, and 28 wild fields were seized during the year. The Texas arrest data for 2020 show that law enforcement officials made 1,071 arrests for the sale and manufacturing of marijuana, 55 of which were to persons under 16. There were also 23,681 arrests for marijuana possession 1,129 of them were marijuana possession charges to a minor.
In 2021, all law enforcement drug reports for the period showed that packaged marijuana seizures amounted to 81,134 solid pounds and over 21 thousand solid ounces. Law enforcement officers also confiscated over 300 marijuana plants, 42 marijuana gardens, 28 marijuana greenhouses, 17 marijuana cultivated fields, and 10 marijuana wild fields. For this period, the total arrest reported for the sale and manufacturing of marijuana was 645. Law enforcement officers also recorded 77,180 arrests for marijuana possession.
From January 2022 to September 2022, the total marijuana seized by law enforcement officers includes over 29,000 solid pounds of packaged marijuana,184 marijuana plants, 52 marijuana greenhouses, 28 gardens, 11 marijuana cultivated fields, and four wild fields. During the period, drug-related arrest records submitted to the Texas Department of Public Safety include 423 arrests for the sales and manufacturing of marijuana and 14,891 arrests for marijuana possession.
Between 2020 and 2021, there was a 225% increase in arrests made from marijuana possession, while there was a 39% decrease in arrests made from selling and manufacturing marijuana.
Arrests for DUI stood at 48,178 and 62,915 for 2020 and 2021, respectively. DUI records for January to September 2022 show 39,826 arrests from all agencies in Texas. The number of DUI grew significantly by 30% between 2020 and 2021 due to the increased number of illegal marijuana possession by Texans. However, this assumption may not be absolute, as DUI charges include alcohol intoxication.
In 1919, Texas outlawed marijuana and limited its use to prescription-based use along with all other narcotics. This followed the marijuana ban by El Paso in 1915. In 1931, life imprisonment became the penalty for possessing any amount of marijuana in the state. However, in 1973, Texas passed HB 447, an amendment to the law that recommended life imprisonment, making the possession of 4 ounces or less of cannabis equivalent to a misdemeanor. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbot signed the Compassionate Use Act into law, which allows patients with specific severe ailments to use low-THC CBD oil for medical purposes. In 2017, Texans started an online petition for medical and recreational marijuana legalization. This petition got almost 40,000 petitioners' signatures.
Texas Legislators have introduced several bills aimed at legalizing marijuana in Texas. In November 2020, Rep. James Frank, Harold Dutton Jr, Candy Noble, Gene Wu, and Keith Bell introduced HB 567. Similarly, HJR 11 and HJR 13, bills seeking to amend the Texas Constitution to allow state's voters to decide the legality status of marijuana in the state, are at different stages. HB 307, SB 90, and HB 43 are other bills seeking to decriminalize marijuana possession and use to a notable extent. HB 567 aims to protect the parental rights of any Texan who has the recommendation to use low-THC cannabis or has administered low doses of THC to their ailing child. This bill was sent to Governor Abbot in May 2021 and passed the governor's action stage, having gone unsigned for ten days. It became effective by September 1, 2021.