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Marijuana arrests still seen as serious drug crimes in Texas

In Texas, possession of a small amount of marijuana remains a comparatively serious offense that leads to potentially negative repercussions, including fines, incarceration, probation and a permanent criminal record. Normally, that kind of treatment is reserved for conviction of serious drug crimes. Because at least 10 states have legalized or decriminalized the offense, it is all the more difficult for state residents to accept the harsh impact on their lives.

Although a certain coalition of lawmakers and opposition political leaders have come together in Texas to try and remedy the problem, it is currently uncertain whether relief for marijuana possession will come in 2019. There are pockets of reactionary interests that oppose reform. That includes some law enforcement groups who foresee an increase in crime rates and other agencies that rely on the economic support that comes from fines, forfeiture, seizure of contraband and other perks associated with the drug trade.

Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of pot for recreational use. In addition, 13 states have decriminalized possession, making it a civil infraction that incurs no criminal punishment. In local communities here and across the nation there are also liberalization policies adopted by some authorities on their own discretion. In Dallas County, the newly-elected district attorney announced a moratorium on arrests for first time, small amount offenders.

He adopted that policy on the basis that there is more serious crime enforcement work to do in Texas, including with respect to many violent crimes. In Harris County, prosecutors offer a diversionary program for those who are caught with less than 4 ounces of pot. They may take a four-hour class that deals with decision-making and avoiding risky behavior. Reportedly, 7,000 people have successfully opted for that route since its inception in March 2017. They have thereby avoided a permanent criminal record that could infer the possibility of involvement in serious drug crimes.   

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John M. Petruzzi, Attorney at Law
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