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Legislators reconsider penalties for marijuana possession

Despite growing trends toward cannabis legalization across the country, many people in Texas are still facing severe recriminations after convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana. In the past five years, around 379,000 Texans have been arrested and charged with possession of 2 ounces or less of cannabis. One woman was arrested in 2013 at the age of 21 after she was found with a small amount of marijuana, about enough for one joint. In 2019, she continues to deal with drug checks through a probation officer, restriction to her county and a prohibition on going to bars.

While 10 states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized small personal-use amounts of cannabis, 13 more have made marijuana possession in these quantities a civil infraction rather than a crime. However, any possession of cannabis remains a criminal offense in Texas. In some areas of the state, local courts and prosecutors are wary of pressing serious criminal charges against people arrested for the first time. In addition, legislators have indicated strong public support for reducing penalties.

A number of bills are being introduced into the state legislature that aim to address the issue. Some would lessen the sanctions for a conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana, while others would eliminate those criminal penalties completely. Instead, a civil fine would be imposed. One legislator said that people are losing driver's licenses and facing criminal records over what is a relatively minor issue.

People who are arrested with small amounts of marijuana can continue to face criminal prosecution in Texas courts, and the consequences can be troubling. However, a criminal defense lawyer can work with someone to push back against police and prosecution narratives while presenting a strong defense for drug charges, before trial and in the courtroom.

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