State of Cannabis: Marijuana Penalties are Bigger in Texas


Everything is bigger in Texas, including marijuana penalties.
Everything is bigger in Texas, including marijuana penalties.

2016 is going to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. This is our sixth post in the series and the following is a recap of where we are with the rankings, from worst (number 50) to this week’s number 45: Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota


Criminal Law. Texas treats possession or sale of a small amount of marijuana as a misdemeanor. Possession of less than 2 ounces warrants a fine of up to $2,000 and 180 days (six months!) in jail. A person can earn those same penalties for gifting less than 7 grams of marijuana. If a person possesses between 2-4 ounces or is caught selling less than 7 grams, the penalties increase to up to a $4,000 fine and up to a year in jail.

A person can be charged with a felony for possession of any amount over 4 ounces or for selling or delivering marijuana in an amount greater than 7 grams. The following charges warrant a $10,000 fine plus potential jail time:

  • Possession of 4 ounces to 5 pounds or sale of 7 grams to 5 pounds earns a sentence between 180 days and 2 years
  • Possession or sale of 5-50 pounds earns a sentence between 2-10 years
  • Possession or sale of 50-2,000 pounds earns a sentence between 2-20 years
  • Possession of over 2,000 pounds earns a sentence between 5 years and life in prison, plus the fine increases to up to $50,000
  • Sale of over 2,000 pounds earns a sentence between 10 years and life in prison, plus the fine increases to up to $100,000.

The impact of these brutal laws are evident when you consider the sheer number of marijuana arrests in Texas. NORML reported (based on data from the FBI) that in 2012 72,562 people were arrested in Texas for marijuana with a whopping 97 percent of all marijuana convictions are for possession. To repeat, you can spend your life in prison for possessing cannabis in Texas.

Medical Cannabis. Texas Governor Greg Abbot signed the state’s medical marijuana law but implementation of the program has been painfully slow. The state is required to issue at least three medical marijuana licenses by 2017 and after its licensing and registry framework is in place, state officials will begin licensing cannabis cultivators and cannabis dispensaries to produce and sell medical marijuana products to qualified patients. The program will only allow for one qualifying condition to prescribe marijuana: intractable epilepsy. The program requires doctors to prescribe marijuana but it is not at all clear that this can work at all since doctors are not allowed to prescribe marijuana, (the act of writing out a script that can be exchanged for medicine). In states that have legalized medical marijuana, doctors  simply recommend marijuana to patients; they do not prescribe it.

Potential Legalization. The Texas state legislature recently considered a bill to allow full legalization on religious grounds. Yes, you read that right. State representative David Simpson introduced a bill to fully legalize marijuana in the Lone Star state, arguing that because marijuana comes from God, the government should not ban it. In May of 2015, this bill made it past the house.

According to a recent poll, 46 percent of Texans support legalizing marijuana with 50 percent against it. Decriminalization garners more support, with 57 percent in favor of leniency for those caught with less than an ounce of pot.

The cost of enforcing its uber-strict criminal cannabis laws led the Daily Texan to post an op-ed arguing for decriminalization on monetary grounds:

[T]he question of whether or not to decriminalize the drug is one about economics — about what we as a state want to spend our money on — and not one about crime or safety.  The cost of incarcerating those arrested for simple possession of the drug is simply too high to continue such a harsh policy. According to a recent Gallup poll, for the first time in history a majority of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana for recreational use — in other words, it’s obvious that times are changing.

BottomlineThough it is surprising that the Texas legislature is actually considering a bill to legalize marijuana, it is not surprising that bill has yet to become law. In the meantime Texas will likely continue to imprison a huge number of marijuana users each year and will continue to be listed on the the wrong side of our rankings.