Marijuana Possession Decriminalized in Austin – What It Means for Residents of Collin County
Texas has some of the strictest laws governing marijuana in the U.S. While change is coming, it’s coming slowly. Across the state, it is illegal to use, possess, sell, distribute, produce, grow, or cultivate recreational marijuana.
While medical marijuana is legal, it is heavily regulated. Medical marijuana was legalized in 2015, which allowed patients with intractable epilepsy to use cannabis. Qualifying conditions were expanded in 2019 to include patients with incurable neurological disorders, autism, and terminal cancer. Now, these people can access medical marijuana.
The penalties for breaking marijuana laws are harsh, ranging from a Class C misdemeanor to a Class A felony. While some counties have reduced penalties, marijuana continues to be illegal in Texas and Collin County.
The Difference Between Decriminalization and Legalization
Austin recently enacted regulations that effectively decriminalized small amounts of marijuana. However, it’s important to know that there are differences between legalization and decriminalization. When something is legalized, like marijuana, it becomes legal to use and acceptable to do in public.
Any punishment or consequence is no longer in effect. Decriminalization does not mean possessing or using marijuana has been made legal. It does mean that the criminal penalties for breaking the law are no longer in effect.
There is some thought that the decriminalization of marijuana reflects changing social values. The decriminalization of marijuana could raise the possibility of it being legalized in the future.
Legislators carefully evaluate the consequences of legalizing or decriminalizing an action for potential future consequences to individuals, the community, and society as a whole.
Austin Voters Approved Marijuana Decriminalization
In July 2020, the Austin Police Department announced that they would no longer arrest and issue citations for marijuana possession. Instead, they would simply confiscate the drugs and issue no arrests or charges.
This development did not qualify as decriminalization but helped to set the stage for placing a measure on the local ballot to decriminalize marijuana in 2022. The measure was approved in Austin and passed by a margin of 85 percent to 15 percent.
The measure also banned “no-knock” warrants by police officers. On the same day, Governor Greg Abbott announced that he did not believe people arrested with low-level amounts of marijuana should be incarcerated.
This ordinance prevents anyone from being arrested or cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession within Austin. In 2022, there has been no statewide, citizen-led initiative to decriminalize or legalize marijuana on the state ballot. However, there have been changes in local areas like Austin.
A survey completed by the University of Houston and Texas Southern University found that 67 percent of Texas residents they polled backed broad reform of marijuana drug laws, including supporting legalization.
What This Means for Residents of Collin County
In 2021, the Dallas police force took a similar step. The new chief Eddie Garcia sent a memo to the City Council announcing that individuals would not be charged with possession of marijuana when they had two ounces or less on their person.
This is considered indicative of personal use without the intent to sell or distribute. The April 16, 2021, procedural changes were made that included charging individuals with possession only when:
- They had more than two ounces of marijuana
- Any amount of marijuana when there are indications of intent to distribute
- Any amount when the individual is in possession of a firearm or has a companion charge for a crime against person offense
Additionally, the chief wrote that when an individual has two ounces but less than four ounces, they will be cited and released as long as no other charges requiring custodial arrest are present. However, in every circumstance, they will seize the marijuana. These procedures were effective on April 19, 2021.
This position is in line with the position of the new Dallas County District Attorney, John Creuzot’s, office that stopped prosecuting first-time marijuana possessions not long after Creuzot took office in early 2019.
After the chief made his announcement, the district attorney thanked him and wrote about why his office had stopped prosecuting first-time offenders. Reasons he listed included racial disparity, as over 90 percent of those who are arrested are people of color, and a waste of police time, as it costs four hours to arrest and jail an offender. By eliminating the cost of testing each specimen, Creuzot estimates that it saves the city in excess of $500,000.
Contact Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian If You Were Arrested or Charged with Possession of Marijuana
If you were arrested or charged with possession of marijuana, you want an experienced Collin County marijuana possession attorney at your side. Our legal team understands the repercussions of a drug arrest and charge on your future.
Whether this is the first time you’ve been arrested or you are familiar with the criminal justice system, you need an attorney who keeps your interests at the center of all their actions. We understand that you have a unique story, and we’ll use the details of your situation to develop a professional yet customized approach to your defense.
Schedule your first confidential and free consultation with Rosenthal Kalabus & Therrian today by calling (972) 369-0577. Our experienced staff will listen to the details of your case, answer your questions, and advise you on your next best steps.