Cannabis in Texas

2012 pro-cannabis protest in Austin
The 2017 Houston, Texas Cannabidio l Superbowl Conference. A panel of scientists, along with 7 ex-NFL players presented a case for using CBD products.

Cannabis in Texas is illegal for medical and recreational purposes, though low-THC CBD oil is allowed for the treatment of epilepsy since 2015. In 1919 cannabis was restricted to prescription-only in Texas, prohibited in 1923, and was declared a "narcotic" with potential life-sentences from 1931–1973.


Early history[edit]

John Gregory Bourke described the use of "mariguan", which he identifies as Cannabis indica or Indian hemp, by Mexican residents of the Rio Grande region of Texas in 1894. He described its uses for treatment of asthma, to expedite delivery, to keep away witches, and as a love-philtre. He also wrote that many Mexicans added the herb to their cigarritos or mescal, often taking a bite of sugar afterward to intensify the effect. Bourke wrote that because it was often used in a mixture with toloachi (which he inaccurately describes as Datura stramonium), mariguan was one of the several plants known as "loco weed". Bourke compared mariguan to hasheesh, which he called "one of the greatest curses of the East", citing reports that users "become maniacs and are apt to commit all sorts of acts of violence and murder", causing degeneration of the body and an idiotic appearance, and mentioned laws against sale of hasheesh "in most Eastern countries".[1][2][3]

1915 El Paso ban[edit]

The Texas city of El Paso was the first American city to individually restrict cannabis, in 1915. The scene for this city ban was set in 1913, when a man killed a police officer in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, while chasing an El Paso couple.[4] Chief Deputy Stanley Good of the El Paso Sheriff's Department noted over several media statements:

One under its influence is devoid of fear and as reckless of consequences or results. There are instances where the drug crazed victim has been placed in jail, but in many cases officers have been compelled to slay the fiend in order to save their own lives. ... A large percentage of the crimes committed are by men saturated with the drug... Most Mexicans in this section are addicted to the habit, and it is a growing habit among Americans.[5]

1919 medical restrictions[edit]

In 1919, the Texas legislature restricted the purchase of narcotics, including cannabis, without a prescription.[6]

1923 prohibition[edit]

In 1923, the Texas legislature illegalized possession of narcotics, to include cannabis, with the intent to sell.[6]

1931–1973 narcotic classification[edit]

2015 Border Patrol seizure of cannabis in the Rio Grande Valley

In 1931, the state of Texas declared cannabis a "narcotic", allowing up to life sentences for possession; this status was to last until 1973.[7] In 1973 the law was amended to declare possession of four ounces or less a misdemeanor.[8][9]


State level[edit]

House Bill 2391 (2007)[edit]

In June 2007, House Bill 2391 was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry.[10] The law allowed police to "cite and release" for certain misdemeanor crimes instead of subjecting offenders to immediate arrest (though the same penalties still applied).[11] Among the offenses for which a citation could be issued was possession of up to 4 ounces of cannabis.[10] Many police departments announced they would continue to arrest for minor cannabis offenses, however.[12]

Proposed recreational legalization (2015)[edit]

In 2015 state representative David Simpson submitted HB 2165, proposing the recreational legalization of cannabis in Texas. A Tea Party-backed conservative, Simpson made a religious case for cannabis, stating: "I don’t believe that when God made marijuana, he made a mistake that government needs to fix.” In May Simpson's bill gained a majority of support in the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, but was not accepted to make it further on the House floor in the limited time remaining in the legislative session.[13][14]

CBD oil legalization (2015)[edit]

On June 1, 2015, governor Greg Abbott signed the Texas Compassionate Use Act (SB 339), allowing the use of low-THC CBD oil to treat epilepsy patients in Texas. Abbott caveated his support: "I remain convinced that Texas should not legalize marijuana, nor should Texas open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes."[15] The bill passed by a 26–5 vote in the Senate and a 96–34 vote in the House.[16][17]

House approves reduced penalties (2019)[edit]

In April 2019, the House of Representatives voted 98–43 to approve House Bill 63.[18] If enacted, the bill would make possession of up to one ounce a Class C (rather than a Class B) misdemeanor, eliminate the threat of jail time, and reduce the fine to $500.[19] The day after its passage in the House, however, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick announced that he would not allow a vote on it in the Senate.[20]

County and municipal level[edit]

El Paso drug legalization resolution (2009)[edit]

In January 2009, the city council of El Paso voted 8–0 in favor of a resolution (sponsored by councilman Beto O'Rourke) calling for a national debate regarding the legalization of drugs as a way to reduce drug cartel violence.[21] The resolution was then vetoed by the mayor, however,[22] and an attempt to override the veto one week later failed by a 4–4 vote.[23] Members of the council had been swayed by pressure from Rep. Silvestre Reyes and several state lawmakers who warned that future allocation of federal funds to the city could be affected.[24]

Austin cite-and-release (2009)[edit]

In February 2009, the Austin Police Department instituted a policy of cite-and-release for possession of small amounts of cannabis.[25][26] The Travis County Sheriff's Office, which encompasses a large part of the Austin metro area, had already been operating under such a policy since the end of 2007.[25]

Harris County First Chance Intervention Program (2014)[edit]

In October 2014, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the launch of the First Chance Intervention Program. Under the program, persons possessing less than two ounces of cannabis would still be subject to arrest, but could avoid a criminal conviction by attending drug education classes or performing community service.[27] In January 2016 the program was expanded so that a citation was given instead of arrest, and all law enforcement agencies within the county were required to comply.[28]

Harris County Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program (2017)[edit]

In February 2017, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the launch of the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program that further expanded upon the reforms of the First Chance Intervention Program. Under the new program, persons possessing less than four ounces of cannabis would not face criminal charges or even be issued a citation as long as they agreed to attend a four-hour drug education class.[29] The new program also differed in that persons who had committed previous cannabis offenses would still be eligible to participate.[29] The program went into effect in March 2017.[30]

Dallas cite-and-release (2017)[edit]

In April 2017 the Dallas City Council voted 10–5 to adopt a cite-and-release policy for possession of less than 4 ounces of cannabis.[31] In October 2017 county commissioners 4–1 voted to approve the plan,[32] and it went into effect in December 2017.[33]

Travis County diversion program (2018)[edit]

In December 2017, Travis County commissioners unanimously approved a plan to allow persons cited for less than two ounces of cannabis to take a four-hour educational course (at the cost of $45) rather than being subject to criminal charges.[34] The policy went into effect in January 2018.[35]

Bexar County cite-and-release, diversion (2018)[edit]

In September 2017, Bexar Country District Attorney Nico LaHood announced a new cite-and-release policy for persons caught with less than 4 ounces of cannabis.[36] The program also allowed cited individuals to avoid criminal charges by attending a class, paying a fine, and performing community service.[37] The policy went into effect for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in January 2018.[38]

Dallas County limited enforcement, diversion (2019)[edit]

In April 2019, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot announced that individuals caught possessing misdemeanor amounts of cannabis would no longer be prosecuted for first-time offenses. Individuals who commit subsequent offenses would be offered diversionary courses to avoid a criminal conviction.[39]

Bexar County expanded cite-and-release, limited enforcement (2019)[edit]

In May 2019, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales announced that an expanded version of cite-and-release would be implemented during the summer and apply to San Antonio Police Department as well.[40] Additionally, Gonzales announced that his office would no longer prosecute possession of less than one ounce of cannabis.[40]


State political parties[edit]

In June 2018, delegates at the Republican Party of Texas 2018 convention voted to approve a set of platform planks endorsing cannabis policy reform.[41][42] Approved by the delegates were:

  • A plank calling for "a change in the law to make it a civil, and not a criminal, offense for legal adults only to possess one ounce or less of marijuana for personal use, punishable by a fine of up to $100, but without jail time" (passed with 81% of the vote).
  • A plank calling for the Texas Legislature to "improve the 2015 Compassionate Use Act to allow doctors to determine the appropriate use of cannabis to certified patients" (passed with 90% of the vote).
  • A plank calling for Congress to "remove cannabis from the list of Schedule 1 and move to Schedule 2" (passed with 82% of the vote).
  • A plank calling for the Texas Legislature to "pass legislation allowing cultivation, manufacture, and sale of industrial hemp and hemp products" (passed with 83% of the vote).

Delegates at the Texas Democratic Party 2018 convention also voted in June to approve a set of platform planks endorsing cannabis policy reform.[43][44] Approved by the delegates were:

  • A plank calling for legislation in Texas to "legalize possession and use of cannabis and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States".
  • Planks calling for the "immediate legalization of medical cannabis" and "federal legislation to remove cannabis as a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance".
  • A plank calling for the "immediate release of individuals incarcerated for possession of cannabis and expungement of criminal records of persons convicted or receiving Deferred Adjudication for misdemeanor cannabis offenses".
  • A plank calling for the "legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes".

Marijuana Lobby Day[edit]

Marijuana Lobby Day was first held in Austin in 2011, when 25 people showed up to press the issue to the legislature (which meets once every two years). In 2013, 50 people attended, in 2015 there were 300, and 375 in 2017.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ John G. Bourke (January 5, 1984). "Popular medicine, customs, and superstitions of the Rio Grande". Journal of American Folklore. 7–8: 138.
  2. ^ "(Record of "marijuan" sample submitted by Bourke to the National Museum, 1892)".
  3. ^ Bourke cites an anonymous writer in the "Evening Star", Washington, D. C., January 13, 1894 for additional remarks on the use of mariguan and Jamestown weed by inhabitants of the area.
  4. ^ Aaron Martinez (June 2, 2015). "100 years after El Paso becomes first city in U.S. to outlaw pot, debate remains the same". Retrieved October 27, 2016.
  5. ^ Chesey, Bob (January 9, 2014). "Stanley Good and El Paso's 1915 marihuana ordinance". Newspaper Tree. Archived from the original on April 11, 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  6. ^ a b Richard Davenport-Hines (November 10, 2003). The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics. W.W. Norton. pp. 239–. ISBN 978-0-393-32545-4.
  7. ^ National Governors' Conference. Center for Policy Research and Analysis (1977). Marijuana: A Study of State Policies and Penalties. Department of Justice, Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, National Institute of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
  8. ^ Emmis Communications (March 1976). Texas Monthly. Emmis Communications. pp. 22–. ISSN 0148-7736.
  9. ^ Gabriel G. Nahas (October 22, 2013). Keep off the Grass: A Scientific Enquiry Into the Biological Effects of Marijuana. Elsevier. pp. 123–. ISBN 978-1-4832-8037-0.
  10. ^ a b Smith, Jordan (August 30, 2007). "Cops Given Choice Whether to Arrest for Minor Pot Possession". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  11. ^ Smith, Jordan (July 25, 2008). "APD -- Jail first, questions later?". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  12. ^ "Texas: Cops Say They Will Continue To Jail Minor Pot Possession Offenders Despite New Law". NORML. September 5, 2007. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  13. ^ Phillip, Abby (May 8, 2015). "Backed by the 'Christian case' for weed, legalization bill moves forward in Texas". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  14. ^ Rosenthal, Brian M. (May 7, 2015). "Texas House panel approves full legalization of marijuana - Houston Chronicle". Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  15. ^ Hershaw, Eva (June 1, 2015). "Abbott Legalizes Cannabis Oil for Epilepsy Patients". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  16. ^ Hershaw, Eva (May 7, 2015). "Senate Gives High Sign to Limited Medical Marijuana". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved November 30, 2016.
  17. ^ Batheja, Aman (May 18, 2015). "Cannabis Oil Approved for Epilepsy Patients". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  18. ^ Camarillo, Vicky (April 29, 2019). "In Historic Vote, Texas House OKs Bill to Soften Penalties for Marijuana Possession". The Texas Observer. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  19. ^ Planas, Roque (April 29, 2019). "Texas House Votes To Lower Marijuana Possession Penalties". HuffPost. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  20. ^ Moritz, John C. (April 30, 2019). "Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: Marijuana bill is dead in the Texas Senate". Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  21. ^ Grim, Ryan (January 14, 2009). "El Paso, Texas, Calls On Congress To Debate Drug Legalization: Dems Refuse". HuffPost. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  22. ^ Crowder, David (January 12, 2009). "'Potheads' have sent their message; now it's time for the 'silent majority,' Mayor Cook urges in e-mail". Newspaper Tree. Archived from the original on February 24, 2012. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  23. ^ Smith, Jordan (January 30, 2009). "Reefer Madness: Don't Talk About It". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  24. ^ Smith, Phillip (January 16, 2009). "The Border: El Paso City Council Folds in Face of Threats, Reverses Call for National Debate on Drug Legalization". Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  25. ^ a b Smith, Jordan (February 24, 2009). "Cite-and-Release in (Almost Full) Effect". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved March 14, 2019.
  26. ^ Plohetski, Tony (October 19, 2008). "Austin police to begin citing, not arresting, some offenders". Austin American-Statesman. Archived from the original on October 22, 2008.
  27. ^ Sandridge, C. (October 1, 2014). "Harris County introduces "First Chance Intervention Program" for marijuana offenses". CW39 Houston. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  28. ^ Rogers, Brian (November 6, 2015). "DA: Marijuana now means a citation, not a ride to jail". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  29. ^ a b Rogers, Brian (February 16, 2017). "New policy to decriminalize marijuana in Harris County will save time, money, DA's office says". Houston Chronicle. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  30. ^ Herskovitz, Jon (February 16, 2019). "Houston area to decriminalize some low-level marijuana possession". Reuters. Retrieved March 12, 2019.
  31. ^ Hallman, Tristan (April 12, 2017). "Got weed? In Dallas, it might not land you in jail anymore". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on May 2, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  32. ^ Young, Stephen (October 17, 2017). "Cite-and-Release for Pot Possession Will (Finally) Start in Dallas in December". Dallas Observer. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  33. ^ Tsiaperas, Tasha (November 22, 2017). "What happens to people caught with weed in Dallas now that 'cite and release' is in effect". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on December 28, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  34. ^ Bernier, Nathan (December 19, 2017). "Caught With Pot? New Four-Hour Class Will Allow Some To Skip Charges". KUT. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  35. ^ Wallis, Jay (December 20, 2017). "Travis County approves new diversion class for marijuana offenders". KVUE. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  36. ^ Eaton, Emilie; Bradshaw, Kelsey (September 27, 2017). "Some offenses, such as possession of a little pot, will be handled like traffic violations in Bexar County". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  37. ^ Sullivan, Jeffrey (September 27, 2017). "County to Try Tickets Instead of Jail for Marijuana Misdemeanors". Rivard Report. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  38. ^ Bradshaw, Kelsey (January 31, 2018). "Bexar County's cite and release program for low-level marijuana possession now in effect". Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  39. ^ Osborne, Ryan (April 11, 2019). "Dallas County's marijuana policy now as lenient as any other in Texas". WFAA. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  40. ^ a b Salazar, Maritza (May 16, 2019). "Cite-and-release program to start this summer in San Antonio, district attorney says". KABB. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  41. ^ Angell, Tom (June 17, 2018). "Texas Republican Party Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization". Forbes. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  42. ^ Britschgi, Christian (June 18, 2018). "Texas GOP Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization". Reason. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  43. ^ Jaeger, Kyle (June 23, 2018). "More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization". Marijuana Moment. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  44. ^ "Texas Democratic Party 2018 – 2020 Platform". Archived from the original on July 5, 2018. Retrieved March 10, 2019.
  45. ^ "Texas Marijuana Lobby Day has ballooned in size — and potentially influence". February 8, 2017. Retrieved February 20, 2017.