AANL5

ASK A NORML LAWYER - INSTALLMENT 5

Q: When is Texas likely to make marijuana legal?

A: Great question…but I don’t exactly have a crystal ball.  However, I am happy to report that there is some modicum of progress on this front.

The Texas Legislature meets every two years, and is in session now. There are two bills that have been introduced in the Texas House of Representatives that would be substantial progress in the fight to completely legalize – or, as I like to say, “re-legalize” – marijuana.

In no particular order, the first bill is House Bill 184. This proposed new law would amend Health & Safety Code Section 481.121 “Possession of Marihuana” and add a new lower classification of offense.  Currently any usable amount of marijuana less than 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2000 fine.

HB 184 would add this language, “(b) an offense…is…a Class C misdemeanor if the amount of marihuana possessed is one ounce or less”. Class C misdemeanors are the level of traffic offenses in Texas; they are punishable by a fine only, in this case up to $500.

There are some other provisions of HB 184 as well. It would make possession of one ounce of marijuana enhanceable to a Class B misdemeanor, if the accused had 3 prior convictions of the Class C variety.  However, deferred disposition would be available (for all practical purposes) on most if not all Class C possession charges. If a person successfully completed a deferred (think: it’s like taking defensive driving to avoid a speeding conviction) then my reading is that those “priors” would not be usable to enhance.

Possession of one to two ounces would still remain a Class B under HB 184. Obviously, it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step in the right direction.

House Bill 594 is the second proposed new law.  It would do two things. It would allow doctors in Texas to be able to speak to their patients about the medicinal use of marijuana without fear of any “administrative, civil, or criminal investigation” being instigated. Plain language? It would alleviate their current justifiable fears that they could be stripped of their license to practice, just by exercising their first amendment rights to speak to patients – or anyone else – about their opinions.

Secondly, it provides an affirmative defense to prosecution for possession if “the person possessed the marijuana as a patient of a physician licensed to practice medicine in this state pursuant to the recommendation of that physician for the amelioration of the symptoms or effects of a bona fide medical condition”.

Note that the language does not even specify an amount of marijuana - which leads me to believe that a doctor’s “recommendation” that a patient could use marijuana would be potentially a defense to any amount. (The flip side of that is that when someone was caught with a huge amount of marijuana, more for example than could be consumed by any one person within any reasonable amount of time, the State would probably be able to successfully argue that the person was not “possessing it” within the meaning of the statute.)

Q: What can I do to help get these bills passed?

A: You can contact your state representative, and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. If you don’t know who that is, google the phrase “find my house rep texas”. The first website that comes up allows you to quickly search for your rep.

Then you could email him or her and ask that they support the bills. Or better still, you could write them a letter, if you have time. Or better again you can go visit them in person.

Texas NORML recently had a very successful “Lobby Day” where members of our organization met at the Capitol, and split up into groups of 7 to 8 people. Everyone who came eventually went to see their personal representative. Because we didn’t have prior appointments, we mostly met with staff because often the elected representative was not even in the office (they were having floor votes at the time).

But we did meet with some actual Reps, and even convinced one to go and co-sponsor both bills the next day. You would be surprised but many reps and even their aides are not always aware of what bills are still in committee, waiting for a possible hearing. There are expected to be over 6000 bills filed this session, and if you want your Rep to know (a) that the bill exists and (b) that you want him to support it, then you are absolutely the right person to march down to the Capitol and ask politely to meet with the Rep or one of their aides.

Yes, it’s an uphill battle. But we are starting to actually gain some real traction. The question is not whether marijuana will be legalized in Texas, but when?

The more the elected representatives hear from the people the sooner positive change will occur. ~