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Sunday Mornings with Rania: Everything You Need to Know about Changing Marijuana Laws

Rania Mankarious
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Sunday Mornings with RaniaBrooklyn Nets All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell was cited at a New York airport this week for possession of marijuana. Russell had an Arizona Iced Tea in a checked bag which after further inspection, had hidden compartments with marijuana. He was in possession of less than 50 grams, which under New York law is a violation plus a fine of $100 or less. 

The number of people today in possession of marijuana is skyrocketing. You have people coming and going from states that allow marijuana to states like Texas where it is still illegal. There are different state laws based on possession or things like medical marijuana - and those laws vary based on amounts in your possession. So, what’s the final story, especially if you’re in Harris County, Texas?  

Possession or Cultivation of Marijuana in the State of Texas

  • I’ve had people ask me, “Is possessing marijuana the same thing as smoking it? Or what if I have it but didn’t smoke it? Or what if I grow it but don’t use it...” The laws are actually pretty clear. Possession (which includes smoking) applies to having it on your body or within your property. Cultivation refers to the growth of marijuana. Here’s how the law breaks down: 
  • 2 ounces or less is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 180 days imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $2,000.
  • Between 2 and 4 ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor with up to 1 year and a fine not to exceed $4,000.
  • Between 4 ounces and 5 lbs. of marijuana is a state jail felony with a mandatory minimum sentence of 180 days imprisonment, a maximum of 2 years imprisonment, and a fine not to exceed $10,000.
  • 5 lbs. and up goes from a Third Degree felony, Second Degree felony and so forth. 

Sale of Marijuana in the State of Texas 
In the simplest form of the word, a sale implies all you think it does; however, the law breaks it down this way:

  • The sale or delivery of 7 grams of marijuana or less, for no remuneration, is a Class B misdemeanor.
  • The sale or delivery of 7 grams of marijuana or less, for remuneration is a Class A misdemeanor. 
  • The sale or delivery of between 7 grams and 5 lbs. is a state jail felony.
  • Once you exceed 5 lbs., you are looking at a Second Degree felony or worse with significant fines and prison time. 
  • Note: Selling marijuana to a child is always a Second Degree felony, punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years imprisonment, a maximum sentence of 20 years imprisonment, and a fine not to exceed $10,000.

Penalties are Increased if... 

  • Sale, delivery or possession occurs within 1,000 feet of a school, youth center or playground, or within 300 feet of a public swimming pool or video arcade causes the degree of the offense to increase by one level.
  • If the perpetrator of any of the previously listed offenses is found to have involved a person under the age of 18, the degree of the offense is increased by one level.

Paraphernalia

  • Possession of paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor.
  • Selling, or possessing with intent to sell or deliver, paraphernalia is a Class A misdemeanor unless the offender has previously been convicted of this offense, in which case the offense is a felony.
  • Selling paraphernalia to a minor is a state jail felony.

Driver’s License 
One’s driver’s license is automatically suspended on final conviction of: (1) an offense under the Controlled Substances Act or (2) a drug offense. Texas Statutes Sec. 521.372 Web Search

But Wait.... Parts of Harris County are a Bit Different  

If you’re in Harris County, there’s more you need to know. After looking at roughly 10,000 annual misdemeanor arrests in Harris County, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg created a misdemeanor marijuana diversion program in an effort to save law enforcement officers’ and prosecutors’ time and resources when it comes to marijuana cases. Her program applies to cases where someone was found in possession of four ounces or less of marijuana. These individuals were not to be arrested, ticketed or required to appear in court if they agree to take a four-hour drug education class at a cost of $150. If the class is completed within 90 days, the charge evaporates and no official arrest record or court record is ever created.

While everyone in the county is eligible for the program, not all those arrested are offered the chance to participate. It’s important to know that 12 of the 61 Harris County police agencies are not deferring anyone to the DA’s diversion class - while those agencies are concentrated in smaller pockets around the coast, they include areas like Seabrook, Nassau Bay, Friendswood, Morgans Point and Lakeview.

A look at numbers at the start of the year showed that DPS troopers in Harris County have sent more than 350 referrals to the DA's office, the third most of any law enforcement agency. The Houston Police referred 927 people to the program. The Harris County Sheriff's Office referred 342.  

Texas Compassionate Use Program 
In 2015, the Texas Compassionate Use Program (TCUP) provides low-THC cannabis oil to registered patients provided they have a valid prescription from not one but two medical doctors. But the program only applies to those with one medical condition - intractable epilepsy, defined as a patient who has tried two FDA approved treatments which have failed to control their seizures. 

New Laws May Be coming: 

House Bill 63, currently under review. In its original form, HB63 sought to remove penalties for getting caught with an ounce or less of marijuana and recommends a mere $250 fine. The bill was recently amended to instead lessen penalties for possession of small amounts of pot to a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500 and no jail time. It would also bar police from arresting anyone caught with small amounts of pot and make it easier to expunge these specific records. Essentially, marijuana possession would remain a crime but with far fewer consequences. This is a big deal. In 2017 alone, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, more than 60,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession, accounting for more than half the drug possession arrests in the state. 

Is CBD Legal in Texas? Edinburg's City Attorney Wants Ken Paxton To Weigh In.

Cannabidiol products (CBD) is fairly new to Texas. CBD now comes in the form of oils, drinks or snacks containing the nonpsychoactive chemical compound found in cannabis, THC. CBD products usually contain a minuscule amount of THC, not capable of getting one high but effective in alleviating inflammation and anxiety. Many wonder if these items are legal? According to the federal government, yes.

Last December, the federal government passed the U.S. Farm Bill making hemp, which is defined as anything that contains less than 0.3 percent THC, as legal in the U.S. It follows that most people, including CBD vendors, assume CBD is legal because they contain low amounts of THC. While this particular area is still grey in Texas (where any amounts of THC are still on the criminal spectrum), it’s important to note the Texas House of Representatives just passed a law legalizing industrial crops pertaining to certain hemp-derived products such as many CBD products with low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. 

So now what? Here’s the deal. In Texas, the laws are still strict and, while changing, you don’t want yourself or a loved one to find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Beyond that, let’s not forget that marijuana is still called the “gateway” drug, often causing its users to graduate to heavier substances. It’s best to stay away unless you have a medical reason but, even then, to make sure you have the proper medical prescriptions to ensure your legal safety.

Read past Sundays with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at rmankarious@crime-stoppers.org. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter

Editor's Note: Views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Buzz Magazines.

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