Cannabis laws often don’t make sense

Originally posted by Dustin Nimz for the Times Record News June 4, 2017 here

Editor’s Note: Often the federal preference of marijuana is the spelling, “marihuana,” as seen below, and reflects the usage dating back to the Controlled Substance Act of 1937. The Times Record News opted to keep the author’s spelling of the word.

As a criminal defense attorney in North Central Texas, I have seen a spike in arrests for marihuana over the past several years in our area.

This is largely because of the highway interdiction officers tasked with patrolling our local highways for drug arrests. Many of these arrests involve marihuana. The current marihuana laws do not reflect the opinions of Texans and have not kept up with the ways that people are using cannabis in our state. In the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll of a representative sample of Texas voters 83 percent of Texans favor legalization of marijuana in some form, either medical only, small amounts only, or full legalization. The poll, and my own experiences talking to potential jurors indicates that the vast majority of Texans do not perceive marihuana as a danger to our communities and it should not be regulated as a drug.

In the current legislative session, a marihuana legalization bill advanced the farthest that any similar bill has before. HB 81 would have made possession of small amounts of marihuana, less than one ounce, a civil offense subjecting the citizen to a $250 fine. That fine would not be a part of a criminal record going forward that would affect that citizen’s ability to work, receive federal student aid, or drive a vehicle.

After two public hearings the bill, received favorable bipartisan support and was sent to the calendaring committee. It was set to be heard by the House and to receive a vote, but actions regarding bathrooms, education, and the budget did not allow the agenda to advance to HB 81. The authors expect to reintroduce the bill and others in the next session or include its provisions as an amendment to other bills this year.

A major issue that has not been addressed in current legislation is the manner in which Texas treats marihuana derivatives. Any item containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active compound in marihuana, that is not in a leaf or bud of the marihuana plant is classified as a controlled substance.

The possession of any amount of THC outside of the plant is a felony offense in the state of Texas with punishment ranges similar to possessing methamphetamine or cocaine. The purpose for the law was to keep people from trafficking in concentrated THC products such as hash, however the law is most commonly used to prosecute people bringing candy, baked goods, granola, etc., back from Colorado. Much of the marihuana consumed today is not smoked but used in these edible forms. Those products generally contain an amount of THC similar to a misdemeanor amount of marihuana but the entirety of the product is weighed.

For example, a standard amount of market marihuana would have around 18% THC. That would mean that a misdemeanor amount, under 4 ounces, would contain 18,720 mg of THC. However, a chocolate bar weighing 1.7 ounces containing just 180mg of THC would result in a second degree felony and up to 20 years in prison. The laws simply don’t make sense when we treat a college kid with a chocolate bar the same as a drug dealer with a quarter pound of meth.

I fight to protect people against unfair laws by discussing these same issues with District Attorneys, juries, and judges, but the real solution has to be common-sense reform of our drug laws in Texas.

The drug war has been ineffective and hurts our state and our citizens. We need to stop wasting our law enforcement and courthouse resources on these offenses. Our current marihuana laws are among the most unfair of our drug laws and they need to be changed.

Dustin Nimz is a member of the Times Record News editorial board.

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