So, there's more good news on the marijuana legalization front, and this time, it's coming to us straight from the Lone Star state.
This week, Texas State Representative Joe Moody introduced a bill that could potentially reduce the current state penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The proposed law, while certainly not blanket legalization for Texas, a la Washington or Colorado, would remove the threat of arrest or jail time, and would also keep the person from having a criminal record for possession, imposing a $100 civil fine instead.
The law would only cover people who are found to be in possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, but it would still be a pretty big change from current marijuana policy. After all, current Texas law punishes people found with small amounts of weed pretty harshly.
Rep. Moody announced the details of the decrim bill alongside retired Texas District Court Judge John Delaney, the ACLU of Texas, Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project, while addressing the current state of marijuana policy in Texas.
"Our current marijuana policy in Texas just isn't working," Rep. Moody said. "We need a new approach that allows us to more effectively utilize our limited criminal justice resources. This legislation is a much-needed step in the right direction."
And ultimately, Rep. Moody and his motley crew of pro-cannabis characters are right. Marijuana laws in Texas are pretty darn ridiculous in their current state, and perhaps it's time for a mass overhaul. Here are a few examples:
In Texas, it's okay to give a person life in prison for marijuana charges. Remember Jacob Lavoro, the 19-year-old from Round Rock? His case made national headlines after police caught him with about a pound and a half of marijuana edibles, a container of THC, $1,600 in cash and an apparent client list.
Police had claimed Lavoro was running a low-level edibles operation, and charged him with a first degree felony of possession with intent to deliver, which carries a prison term of up to life in prison. Lavoro's charges were determined by the weight of the brownies, rather than the actual amount of hash oil used in them, which presumably would have been much less.
Marijuana advocates freaked out at the idea of this young father being sentenced to life in prison for hash brownies, and eventually prosecutors dropped the harshest charges against Lavoro. But the idea that Texas prosecutors are okay with doling out such incredibly unfair charges says quite a bit about the laws in this state.
There's also the case of Tyrone Brown, who in 1990 was put on probation for robbing a man of $2. Tyrone even gave the dude's wallet back, and no one was hurt in the robbery, but the kid -- he was indeed a kid at the time -- screwed up and tested positive for THC while still on probation. He was then sentenced to a life term in a Texas maximum security prison.
Luckily, the press renewed their interest in Tyrone's case around 2006, which ultimately led to Rick Perry granting him a conditional pardon. Tyrone was released March 16, 2007 after serving 17 years in prison.
In Texas, mandatory minimum sentences still exist for marijuana charges, and should you receive one, you're probably not eligible for parole. Most of the laws against marijuana possession, sales, distribution and cultivation in Texas come with a mandatory minimum sentence, meaning even if the judge doesn't agree with the law, he or she must sentence the defendant to that minimum -- or higher.
There is no leeway for the judge to hand down a lesser sentence, no matter the circumstance. And yes, that even counts for cases where the defendant is a medical marijuana patient in another state and is in possession of marijuana or a concentrate purchased legally elsewhere. In Texas, you're still stuck with the draconian minimum sentencing.
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Plus there's little room for a person to be eligible for parole under mandatory minimum sentencing laws, even if the charges were non-violent in nature.
Marijuana is very illegal in Texas, yet it's still a taxable substance. In an attempt to make twice the dough off marijuana offenders, they can be hit with two separate violations in Texas; one for the illegal possession charge, and the other for the taxes on the illegal substance. Yeah, it makes no sense, but hear us out.
The whole idea behind the Marijuana Tax Stamp Law is to "tax" a person in possession of marijuana, unless they have purchased a tax stamp. But in order to get the stamp, you already have to be in possession of marijuana, which is illegal in Texas. So when you're caught and subsequently fined for possession of weed, you can also be fined for not paying the tax on it. Go figure.
How it's possible to tax a product that is illegal is beyond comprehension, but Texas is getting away with it anyway. Until the law is challenged, it will continue to be okay for the state to double-dip on marijuana fines. This act is definitely illegal, and was even found to be unconstitutional when the government tried it at the Federal level, but until that tax stamp is challenged, it will remain on the books in the Lone Star state.