Marijuana Laws are Changing in other States that have made it legal. What do people in Texas need to know?
In my 25 years of practicing criminal law, marijuana offenses have held a separate status, in my opinion, from other narcotics. It’s on the low end of the spectrum as far as the vim and vigor that various prosectors’ offices will bring actual criminal charges.
Certainly, they will file the cases. But the priority of prosecution is often lower than other relative cases.
The undercurrent reality is that marijuana possession, while certainly against the law, makes a county money in fines and fees. Only in aggravating circumstances do people go to jail. They are typically placed on probation and then probation yields fines and fees that help to fund the criminal justice system. Marijuana is treated with a little bit different status than harder and more dangerous drugs. It certainly now has an acceptance in segments of our society.
Now it is the case that over the past five years in rural Texas versus the urban areas there have been significant changes. The change happened for the urban areas about 10 or 15 years ago. But in rural Texas about five years ago, you started seeing a different view of how a prosecuting authority treats a marijuana case.
Law enforcement is still going to make the arrest.
It’s their mandate. They make arrests based on violations of the law. At least the majority of agencies take that philosophy. However, after the arrest, how they are handled has changed dramatically. In some rural counties, it has come about recently, where you have a more liberal view of how to handle a marijuana case. Especially, when you are talking about a person that is of a young age, who is unsophisticated when it comes to criminality or has not had involvement in other types of criminal cases.
A lot of jurisdictions developed unique ways to deal with the marijuana cases.
The fact of the matter is, whether you are punished by a couple of day or a night in jail, time served, punished by probation, or for adjudication where you don’t have the big fine, or fee, a marijuana conviction is still on your record. In many cases, it can become a barrier for a person to go out and achieve the things that they want to achieve.
When a young person is caught with marijuana, an employer, a review board for security clearance, an application review panel for trade schools, grad schools, or licensing agencies, will look at the marijuana charge. Probably not with the same harshness they would look at a more severe crime. But nevertheless, they may look at this as a demonstration of a person’s previous lack of good judgement and having been arrested for it.
A marijuana charge can still have an effect on a someone’s future.
A marijuana charge, even though more innocuous that it has been, can still have an effect of a retardation against a young persons’ future. That is a reality that is being adjusted to. You now have marijuana prosecutions where if the person charged fits a certain caliber of, I want to say, innocence and a lack of sophistication with criminality, then a lot of jurisdictions are dismissing the marijuana charges under those conditions.
Those dismissals usually include an informal type of probationary sentence. Where they say, “Okay, young person, you’re doing good, you’ve got a future. You don’t have any other thing on your record. Show us that you can stay out of trouble. Show us that you can excel in what you are doing right now. Show us that you are clean as far as any type of substances in your system. And if you can satisfy us with that type of criteria, we will dismiss the case.” My home county has implemented that policy which has been in place now for about a year. For a rural county, to be able to make that type of a political move of saying we are going to dismiss marijuana cases, that was a pretty big step.