Legalization of Marijuana Versus Decriminalization of Marijuana

 The debate about the decriminalization of marijuana possession has reached Texas.  Last week governor Rick Perry made public comments that he supports the idea of decriminalization of marijuana to some degree.  Within a few days, the elected district attorney of Harris County Texas made similar comments.  These comments have sparked the interest of citizens and Houston defense lawyers.

  It must be clear to citizens  that decriminalization of marijuana is not the same legal concept as legalization of marijuana.  Decriminalization involves making penalties less severe, increasing focus on rehabilitative initiatives, and perhaps removal of criminal penalties for small amounts of weed.  Legalization would be a much more drastic change where the law would completely allow possession of pot.

  In 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington passed laws legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use.  The courts in Alaska held over 35 years ago that people have a protected right to have marijuana in their homes in small amounts.  Defense lawyers and civil rights advocates have spoken out about decriminalization of marijuana for decades.

  Currently, Texas law forbids the possession of any useable amount of marijuana.  Any useable amount under 2 ounces is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail, a fine of $2000, and suspension of driving privileges.  Larger amounts are punishable by even harsher penalties.

One concern voiced by opponents to the decriminalization of marijuana is an increase in drivers impaired by marijuana.  Texas law forbids any driver from driving after taking any drug or substance that causes their mental or physical faculties to be abnormal.  Opponents suggest that legalization of marijuana may cause an increase in numbers of people driving while intoxicated (DWI) under the influence (DUI) of marijuana.  Police officers are trained in procedures believed to detect the effects of marijuana in order to assist in the prosecution of drivers who are suspected of driving while high.  Future posts on this blog will explore these procedures in more depth.

Whether marijuana possession or use is legal, it will always be a criminal charge for a person to drive after using any drug that causes their faculties to be less than normal.  This can occur after use of alcohol, drugs like marijuana, and methamphetamine, or after using medications like Xanax, hydrocodone, or Soma.  These accusations involve complex legal and scientific issues that require legal expertise beyond that of the typical lawyer.  Drivers accused with these charges need the best lawyer they can find with specialized training in defense of these difficult  cases.