Greg Abbott's War on Weed: The Lone Star State Arrested 40,000 for Cannabis in 2023

Despite the growing trend of marijuana legalization and decriminalization across the United States, Texas remains one of the most restrictive states when it comes to cannabis policy. In 2023, Texas law enforcement agencies reported over 40,000 arrests for marijuana possession, making it the state with the highest number of such arrests in the nation.

Texas has a medical marijuana program, but it is very limited and only allows patients with certain qualifying conditions to access low-THC cannabis oil. The state does not allow recreational use or cultivation of marijuana, and possession of any amount of cannabis is a criminal offense. Depending on the weight and type of the substance, offenders can face fines ranging from $2,000 to $50,000 and jail time from 180 days to 99 years.

Many advocates and lawmakers have been pushing for reforms to reduce the harsh penalties and racial disparities associated with marijuana enforcement in Texas. In May 2023, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill that would prevent arrests for possession of less than an ounce of cannabis flower or concentrates, and instead issue a citation and a fine of up to $500. However, the bill stalled in the Senate and did not become law.

In addition, several cities and counties in Texas have adopted their own policies to decriminalize or deprioritize marijuana possession cases. For example, Austin, Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have implemented cite-and-release programs or diversion programs that allow offenders to avoid arrest or prosecution by paying a fine or completing a drug education course. However, these local initiatives have faced opposition from state officials, such as Attorney General Ken Paxton, who sued five cities in February 2024 for violating state law by enacting marijuana ordinances.

The consequences of marijuana arrests in Texas are not only legal but also social and economic. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas spent over $311 million on marijuana enforcement in 2018, diverting resources from other public safety needs. Moreover, marijuana arrests disproportionately affect people of color, who are more likely to be searched, arrested, and convicted than white people, despite similar rates of use. The report also found that a marijuana conviction can have lasting impacts on a person's ability to access education, employment, housing, and voting rights.

As more states move toward legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, Texas remains an outlier in its strict approach to cannabis policy. The state's high number of marijuana arrests reflects its resistance to change and its disregard for the costs and harms of prohibition. While some local efforts have attempted to mitigate the effects of marijuana enforcement, they have faced legal challenges and political obstacles from state authorities. Until Texas adopts a more sensible and humane cannabis policy, thousands of Texans will continue to face criminal charges and collateral consequences for possessing a plant that is legal or tolerated in most parts of the country.