What are the Penalties for Marijuana Possession in Texas?
On June 15, 2007 Governor Rick Perry signed into Texas law House Bill 2391. This law gives police officers discretion to arrest a suspect – the current practice – or to write citations for class A or B misdemeanors for possession of 4 oz. or less of marijuana. This has caused some misconceptions concerning the penalties for possession of marijuana in Texas
This legislation did not decriminalize or lower the penalties for marijuana possession. It just gave police officers the option to make an arrest for the misdemeanor possession of less than 4 oz. of marijuana, or issue a citation and notice to appear at court. Local prosecutors, police and sheriffs’ departments can decide on a case by case basis whether or not to use this option. Another thing most are not aware of is this comes into play only if the alleged offense occurs in the same county in which the accused resides.
House Bill 2391 received the support of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) and the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas. They feel the time and money benefits realized from eliminating the four hours spent booking suspects into county jail warranted their support.
Marc A. Levin is a director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization that lobbied for HB 2391. Levin is an Austin attorney and an author on legal and public policy issues. “The idea was to free up more county jail space and law officers’ time for violent offenders and sex offenders,” said Levin. “We looked at how to save counties money. We always came back to the same answer: Take the low-level offenders out of the county jail.”
Anna Yanea Correa, director of the Criminal Justice Coalition, a more liberal leaning organization is also on record as favoring the new law. In an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram she has stated that it is a positive approach to both law enforcement agencies and the accused. “This says to the police officer, you have the experience and judgment to decide whether this person needs to be taken to jail immediately,” she said. “And for the person accused, if he is given a citation, he doesn’t risk losing his job because he misses work or risk losing his home because he lost his job. He still has to go to court, and he still faces punishment.”
At the time of this writing, the Travis County Sheriffs’ Department is one of the very few law enforcement agencies in the state known to be using the new law. The department spokesman Roger Wade said they utilize it because of a problem with jail overcrowding and allowing the deputies to work more efficiently. According to the postings on the Texas District and County Attorneys Association it seems many members of the Texas justice system are not using the citation option because of many unanswered procedural questions that come into play when using this option.
The bottom line is marijuana penalties in Texas did not change. Here are the current penalties associated with possession and sale (with no prior convictions):
- 2 oz. or less class B misdemeanor 180 days $2,000
- 2 to 4 oz. class A misdemeanor 1 year $4,000
- 4 oz to 1 lb. state jail felony 180 days – 2 years $10,000
- 1 to 5 lbs. state jail felony 180 days – 2 years $10,000
- 5 to 50 lbs. felony of the third degree 2 – 10 years $10,000
- 50 to 2,000 lbs. felony of the second degree 2 – 20 years $10,000
- More than 2,000 lbs. felony 5 – 99 years $50,000
- Gift of 1/4 oz. or less class B misdemeanor 180 days $2,000
- 1/4 oz. or less class A misdemeanor 1 year $4,000
- 1/4 oz. to 5 lbs. state jail felony 180 days – 2 years $10,000
- 5 to 50 lbs. felony of the second degree 2 – 20 years $10,000
- 50 to 2,000 lbs. felony of the first degree 5 – 99 years $10,000
- 2,000 lbs. or more felony MMS 10 – 99 years $100,000