Texas Becomes (Very Slightly) More Accepting of Marijuana, While the White House Commutes Sentences of Nearly Fifty Non-Violent Drug Offenders

The legal status of marijuana and related products has undergone significant changes in recent years. Numerous states have enacted legislation permitting the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor’s prescription. A handful of states and the District of Columbia have essentially decriminalized marijuana altogether. Many jurisdictions still show little willingness to yield on the issue, however, and marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Texas joined the list of states allowing some degree of access to marijuana for medical purposes in June 2015, although the allowance made by the new bill, when compared to the range of potential medical uses for the drug, is tiny. Another positive news story involves the White House’s commutation of the prison sentences of 46 individuals convicted of nonviolent drug offenses, including four people in Texas.

The Texas governor signed SB 339, also known as the “Texas Compassionate-Use Act,” on June 1, 2015. Texas law generally prohibits the possession of delivery of marijuana (or “marihuana,” to use the statute’s archaic spelling) in any amount. Offenses range from a Class B misdemeanor for small amounts up to a first-degree felony with possible life imprisonment for amounts exceeding 2,000 pounds. Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 481.120, 481.121.

SB 339 only allows the use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil to treat intractable epilepsy. CBD is one of the active components of marijuana. Texas law still prohibits products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The new bill adds Chapter 487 to the the Texas Health and Safety Code, which authorizes the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) to license “dispensing organizations,” register managers and employees of such organizations, and maintain a “compassionate-use registry” of physicians and prescriptions. The bill also adds Chapter 169 to the Texas Occupations Code to establish the permissible circumstances for prescribing CBD oil. It defines “intractable epilepsy” as a “seizure disorder” in which “two or more appropriately chosen and maximally titrated antiepileptic drugs…have failed to control the seizures.” SB 339 at § 2, to be codified at Tex. Occ. Code § 169.001(2).

In July 2015, President Obama commuted the sentences of 46 individuals incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses, including four in Texas, stating that they “had served sentences disproportionate to their crimes.” Most of the individuals had been sentenced to 20 years or more in prison on federal drug charges. The president has reportedly commuted 89 sentences since first taking office in 2009, more than the previous four presidents combined.

The Texas individuals’ sentences included 20 years for possession with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of crack cocaine; 20 years for possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine; life imprisonment for conspiracy to possess, and aiding and abetting possession, with intent to distribute 376.9 grams of crack cocaine; and 21 years, 10 months for possession with intent to distribute an unnamed controlled substance. All sentences are now set to expire on November 10, 2015.

The U.S. Constitution grants the president the authority to pardon people for crimes covered by federal law, to commute their sentences, or to grant them a reprieve from prosecution or punishment. Commutation of a sentence merely stops the punishment. Unlike a pardon, it does not wipe out the underlying conviction.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Michael J. Brown, a board-certified marijuana defense attorney, has fought for the rights of defendants facing drug-related charges in west Texas for over 20 years. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

DEA Approves Schedule I Drug for Clinical Trial by Medical Researchers, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, July 29, 2015

Federal Authorities Charge Texas Retail Chain Owner in Connection with Synthetic Marijuana Investigation, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, June 17, 2015

Legal Status of Marijuana Under Review by Texas Legislature, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, April 10, 2015


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