The cultivation and consumption of cannabis commonly known as marijuana (Cannabis sativa) drug for therapeutic and recreational purposes were historically legal under federal law in the United States. The therapeutic value of marijuana as a pain reliever promoted its recognition as being medicinal. In the 1930s prohibitions against marijuana use emerged with many states enacting laws under the Uniform State Narcotic Drug Act, to regulate its use.
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The legislation aimed at reducing the harmful effects of the drug on its users, reducing the violent criminal activities associated with marijuana use, and ensuring controllable use of other drugs. However, the prohibition of marijuana use has elicited controversy with most arguments advocating for drug policy reform more notably the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
NORML, a non-profit organization founded in 1970, endeavors to achieve the legalization of marijuana use in the United States and advocates for the legal and responsible usage of non-medical cannabis by adults. NORM strives to revoke the federal laws against marijuana use. NORML also offers legal assistance to those arrested over illegal marijuana use.
NORML Legal Functions
NORML seeks the repeal of laws against marijuana use through various legal mechanisms. It recommends the adoption of different legal models against marijuana use instead of total prohibition. NORML, with political undertones, campaigned for decriminalization of minor marijuana offenses in 11 states and lessening of penalties for minor offenders in all the others in the 1970s.
The NORML has many professionals including scientists, researchers, and court attorneys that help the organization to carry out its mandate. NORML lobbies for state legalization of medical marijuana use and campaigns for lesser penalties for minor offenders.
NORML has a legal committee consisting of defense attorneys that offer legal assistance to marijuana offenders. In addition, the legal committee coordinates seminars over major judicial decisions and provides legal information regarding the legal status of marijuana prohibition. The NORML criminal defense attorneys provide NORML’s position about marijuana use in courts. NORML also supports activists’ campaigns for the legalization of cannabis use across the country as a medical drug or recreational purposes.
Instituted in 1997, the NORML Foundation fosters public awareness by trying to highlight how expensive marijuana prohibition is and it does this through mass advertisement. Their arguments advocate for the legalization of marijuana to reduce the expenditure incurred in enforcing the anti-marijuana policies.
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The NORML foundation educates the public about the disadvantages of the current state and federal legislation and offers alternative legislations. NORML’s advisory board composed of celebrities and prominent personalities help to shape public opinion concerning marijuana cultivation and use through public media.
They also support legislation geared towards decriminalization of adult marijuana use. In addition to advocating for recreational adult use of marijuana, NORML also advocates for the legalization of medical use of marijuana by patients with medical conditions like glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, and other illness in the states where the medical use of marijuana remain illegal.
Marijuana Laws in Texas
In Texas, legislation against the strict anti-cannabis laws aims at reducing the penalties for the possession of marijuana. Presently in Texas,” the first possession of two ounces of marijuana belongs to Class B misdemeanor, which attracts a penalty of up to six months and or a fine of $2,000” (Gerber 2004, p.8).
Those found possessing four or fewer ounces to fall under Class A infringement, while those possessing between five and four face incarceration in jail. Third-degree offense describes possession of less than fifty but more than five pounds while those in possession of less than 2000 but more than fifty passes for a second-degree criminal offense. Moreover, a second-degree felony convict faces 99 years of incarceration or part with fines of up to $50,000.
The legislations also involve penalties for the sale or delivery of marijuana. Offenders convicted more than once if arrested with less than one pound of marijuana undergo probation and compulsory drug treatment. According to Gerber, “sale of marijuana to a minor attracts a state jail felony or a fine of $1000…one-quarter ounce…180 days in jail or a fine of up to $3000…one-quarter…a fine of $10000 and two years in jail” (15).
In addition, one faces up to 20 years imprisonment or $10,000 for having five pounds of marijuana while trading 50 pounds of marijuana draws fines of up to $100,000 and fines between five and ninety-nine years of incarceration
The Severity of Texas Marijuana Laws
The harsh penalties for possession of marijuana have attracted attempts to decriminalize marijuana possession and use. Legislation passed in 2007 by the Texas Legislature changed the possession of two ounces of marijuana from an automatic Class B misdemeanor to Class B or C misdemeanor (Gerber 2004, p.14). The medical use of marijuana by patients and the possession of the drug by doctors or patients is illegal in Texas. In Texas, no laws decriminalize or attempt to reverse the legislation that limits the use of marijuana for medical purposes by patients or doctors.
The possession of marijuana attracts a hefty fine or incarceration in jail in Texas. I expected that the laws had exceptions for medical marijuana use but apparently, in Texas the medical marijuana laws are non-existent. Despite these harsh anti-cannabis laws, Texas produces a lot of marijuana annually, “about 69,000Ibs as estimated by the Drug Enforcement Administration” (Gerber 2004, p.15).
The high number of marijuana-related arrests; about 5% of all arrests made in Texas related to the stringent anti-cannabis laws and the large harvests of the drug. In addition, Texas State’s legislation does not recognize medical usage of marijuana but considers it as a recreational drug. Therefore, any possession of marijuana attracts punishment from a criminal perspective.
This means that patients and medical practitioners alike do not use the drug even under severe medical conditions like multiple sclerosis. This has elicited debate concerning this legislation and the need to reform the legislation through the media and NORML Texas chapter. Individuals found driving while under the influence of marijuana attracts punishment under the Texas law, just like a punishment for drunken driving.
The anti-cannabis laws in Texas are unexpectedly very severe for they even deter medical usage of marijuana. Other states’ legislations are a bit lenient as they recognize the medical use of cannabis in hospitals. The medical practitioners and the patient are issued with a license to prevent them from arrest and thus freely using the drug.
Alternative Marijuana Legislation
The hefty penalties and punishment awarded to offenders of the Texas anti-cannabis laws are improper. Instead, less strict legislation to reduce the penalties and fines should be adopted (Roffman & Robert 2006, p.56). Efforts to ensure that the minor offenders found in possession of two ounces or less get a lesser sentence as opposed to the two years jail term currently given are underway.
The bill passed in 2007 gives the option for minor offenders’ punishment with a lesser offense than the actual penalty. In addition, Texas should review its legislation to recognize medical marijuana users are necessary, as some medical conditions require suppression of pain by cannabis drugs.
Pro-marijuana legalization groups like AIDS care and physicians groups base their arguments on the medicinal value of marijuana as a treatment drug for major illnesses. The anti-marijuana agencies on the other hand oppose the legalization of marijuana because there is no supportive evidence for the claim that it has medicinal value.
The basis of legislation in Texas is on the unfounded perception that marijuana is addictive; nevertheless, this also happens in alcohol abuse and alcohol is legal. Marijuana addiction is not as severe as alcohol addiction. The legislation is also based on the belief that marijuana has no medical use and therefore should be illegal. Research shows that marijuana has immense medical benefits in the treatment of diseases like glaucoma and cancer, which affect most Americans (Earleywine 2005, p. 68).
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The legislations affect the treatment of these chronic diseases. The review of the Texas anti-cannabis laws is important due to the effects it has on the lives of the people who use it for medical reasons. The association of Marijuana alongside drugs such as Cocaine also enhances legislation against marijuana use.
Instead of the strict legislation against marijuana possession and use, the Texas State should enact lenient laws to control the cultivation, possession, and sale of this drug (Holland 2010, p.21). Penalties for handling small quantities of cannabis should be reduced to a fine instead of imprisonment.
The strict legislations encourage abuse of the drug and promote illegal trade of the drug in the black market. The strict legislations make cannabis users get access to and abuse other hard drugs like cocaine. Strict control mechanisms in place of the stringent legislation will prevent abuse of the drug and control prices. Legalizing cannabis will result in the promotion of human health but the legalization of the drug should be accompanied by control against excessive use that can be detrimental to users’ health.
NORML strives to achieve the legalization of marijuana use for recreational and medical use. It also advocates the responsible use of cannabis by adults in the United States. It is comprised of the legal committee that facilitates its efforts to repeal the existing legislation against cannabis use.
It has professional scientists, researchers, and defense attorneys that give technical support regarding the decriminalization of legislation against cannabis use. It also creates public awareness through advertising campaigns and offers alternative less-strict legislation to replace the current laws.
NORML also advocates for the medical use of marijuana by patients suffering from certain illnesses; unfortunately, the state legislations of Texas prohibit the possession or sale of cannabis with heavy punishment awarded to offenders. However, given the many benefits of the drug, controlled adult cannabis use, and medical-related use is justifiable especially now that credible scientific research proves its medicinal value.
Earleywine, M 2005, Understanding marijuana: a new look at the scientific Evidence, Oxford University Press, New York.
Gerber, J 2004, Legalizing marijuana: drug policy reform and prohibition Politics, Greenwood Publishing Group.
Holland, J 2010, The Pot Book: a complete guide to cannabis role in medicine, Politics, science, and culture, Park Street Press, Vermont.
Roffman, A & Robert, S 2006, Cannabis dependence: its nature consequences and Treatment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.