“Um, because it’s still illegal, right?”

My non-lawyer friend’s response to why we still prosecute marijuana cases here in Galveston County is concise and correct. However, readers of this newspaper deserve some elaboration on the issues raised in Michael A. Smith’s editorial (“DA’s plan for small-time pot busts more problem than solution,” The Daily News, Jan. 12).

Texas changed its marijuana laws last June, creating a new distinction between hemp (now legal in some forms) and marijuana (still illegal in all forms). That difference turns on THC content. When the cannabis sativa plant contains more than 0.3 percent THC concentration, it’s still illegal marijuana in the State of Texas.

Although the law created this distinction, Texas’ publicly funded crime labs are not yet equipped to test THC concentration levels. We expect that testing to be available soon. Because there will be a backlog of cases to test, we’ve asked police agencies to prioritize the most serious cases and the most serious offenders — this means cases with larger amounts of product, crimes committed near schools and other protected areas, crimes involving weapons, and defendants with long criminal histories should all be tested first.

In the meantime, Texas authorizes its peace officers to arrest someone whom they have probable cause to believe possesses marijuana. And, as a society, we expect police to enforce Texas law and not simply disregard an entire category of offenses. The same expectation applies to prosecutors.

Research continues to prove that marijuana use can have serious harmful effects, especially in young populations. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine reports on studies showing that young people using marijuana can have more difficulty learning and retaining information and are more likely to drop out of school. Frequent users can suffer significant declines in IQ. About 9 percent of all marijuana users become addicted, but 17 percent of adolescents become addicted and as much as 50 percent of daily users become addicted. And while our society struggles with a raging mental health crisis, how can we ignore research proving that marijuana use increases the risk of depression and schizophrenia?

Marijuana sold today contains at least four times as much THC as it did in the ’80s. A quick browse of an online U.S. dispensary shows plants with THC levels of more than 20 percent, exponentially higher than the legal threshold of 0.3 percent. This isn’t your father’s marijuana that’s being marketed to our children.

That being said, our focus on these cases is rehabilitation. Here in Galveston County we have a robust pretrial diversion program designed to assist young and first-time offenders in recovery while avoiding criminal convictions. Marijuana possession, by itself, is a non-violent offense. We make every effort to give these offenders a chance to make things right and keep their records clean.

So, why not stop prosecuting marijuana cases altogether? The Texas Constitution is plain-speaking when it comes to the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches: Nobody in one branch can exercise any power belonging to the other branches. If Texans decide to change the law and legalize marijuana, then we’ll do so through our duly elected legislators. That is the right — and only — way it should be done. Until then, it’s reasonable to expect police and prosecutors to enforce the law as written. And as for me and my office, we will continue to follow the law.

Jack Roady is the district attorney for Galveston County.


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(17) comments

Keith Gray

Great information, and thanks for sharing. It's nice to see a column without any political spin.

Bailey Jones

"because it's still illegal" seems to be a sufficient rationale for many. It needs to be illegal because it's always been illegal ("always" in the sense that Americans don't know much of their history). The better question is "why is it illegal?" And "what is the cost to society of criminalization?" I hold that the negative effects on society of criminalizing marijuana are worse than the effects of legalizing marijuana. And doubly so since outlawing pot doesn't make it go away - it simply adds another layer of societal costs.

The recreational use of cannabis is legalized in 11 states. A further 15 states have decriminalized it. 33 states allow its medicinal use. 60% of Americans favor its legalization. The trend is clear. Where is the wisdom in arresting someone for an act that will in all likelihood be legal in a few years?

And why are conservatives so opposed to legalization? It makes no sense to me that a philosophy that claims to represent personal freedom, small government, and personal responsibility should back a government policy that results in the surveillance, search, and arrest of millions of otherwise law abiding citizens.

A quote from National Affairs magazine says it nicely - "John Kenneth Galbraith once said that politics consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable. The case of cannabis, an illicit market with sales of almost $50 billion per year, and half a million annual arrests, is fairly disastrous and unlikely to get better. The unpalatable solution is clear: Congress should proceed at once to legalize the sale of cannabis."


Gary Scoggin

“And why are conservatives so opposed to legalization?” Conservatives aren’t. Republicans are. Today’s Republican Party is anything but conservative.

Carlos Ponce

Gary Scoggin is confusing Conservative with Libertarian. But I know a few Libertarians who are also opposed to legalization. Gary Scoggin, you apparently have no idea of what Conservatives believe in.

Gary Scoggin

I thought Conservatives believed in things like “personal freedom, small government, and personal responsibility.” Since today’s Republicans don’t believe in those things, obviously I was wrong.

Carlos Ponce

“personal freedom, small government, and personal responsibility.” As few rules as possible, Gary, and those rules are meant to protect others. A person high on marijuana is not "safe". If you could separate yourself from the rest of society there would be no problem. That would mean no driving, no use of health facilities nor health providers, no interaction with others.Now find a deserted island and do what you will. "Small government" doesn't mean NO government. "Personal responsibility" means just that, PERSONAL. We all agree that cigarette smoking is harmful but marijuana smoking is just as bad. And dependent on the amount of THC and other additives, perhaps even worse. "Personal freedom" means you would exercise those freedoms with common sense. A right to keep and bear arms doesn't mean I can fire at anything. But some fools, especially on New Year's Day, fire at the sky. We see many hurt or killed when that bullet returns to earth.

Gary Scoggin

Got it. The same reasons we ban alcohol.

Carlos Ponce

The alcohol content is regulated and posted. Few people go around with THC quantity testers and purity testers to see what you are really getting.

I just heard on the news marijuana has a bad effect on statins and blood thinners. So if you are on these meds avoid usage of the weed.

Gary Scoggin

That's an argument for regulation. Not banishment.

Carlos Ponce

Easier to ban and protect lives than to over regulate and be responsible when someone gets hurt.

Bailey Jones

"Few people go around with THC quantity testers and purity testers to see what you are really getting." That's because you don't know what you're talking about. People going around with with "THC quantity testers and purity testers" is exactly what happens in legalized settings. I refer you to the 382 pages of COLORADO MARIJUANA RULES, where the word "test" appears 1387 times -


In particular, the many sections on labeling of various marijuana products, such as -

Labeling of Regulated Marijuana Product.

a. Transfer to a Regulated Marijuana Business other than a Medical Marijuana

Store or Retail Marijuana Store. Prior to Transfer to a Regulated Marijuana

Business other than a Medical Marijuana Store or Retail Marijuana Store, every

Container of Regulated Marijuana Product shall be affixed with a label that

includes at least the following information:

i. The license number of the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Facility(ies)

where the Medical Marijuana was grown, or Retail Marijuana Cultivation

Facility(ies) where the Retail Marijuana was grown;

ii. The license number of the Medical Marijuana Products Manufacturer that

produced the Medical Marijuana Product, or the Retail Marijuana

Products Manufacturer that produced the Retail Marijuana Product;

iii. The Production Batch Number(s) assigned to the Regulated Marijuana


iv. The net contents, using a standard of measure compatible with the

Inventory Tracking System, of the Regulated Marijuana Product prior to

its placement in the Container; and

v. Potency test results as required to permit the receiving Regulated

Marijuana Business to label the Medical Marijuana Product or Retail

Marijuana Product as required by these rules.

Go back upstairs, grandma, your stories are on.

Carlos Ponce

And you trust them? SAD!

Bailey Jones

"And you trust them? SAD!" What a ridiculous statement. Clearly, you've run out of arguments again. Do you trust the manufacturers of the ice cream you eat? The medicines you take? The gas you put in your car? This is your precious capitalism that, according to you and your "conservatives", needs LESS regulation and LESS government oversight (MAGA!!!). But when it comes to weed - well, I guess you can never trust a capitalist!

Do I trust them? No - I don't trust any corporation. That's why I believe in the regulation of businesses, funded, as is the case here, with a tax on the item being produced. Childproof packaging, an ingredients list, tested THC levels, FDA inspection, and the same sort of health warnings you get on any OTC drug - that's what legalization brings.

Now seriously - go back upstairs before you miss Hannity's impeachment spin. I don't want you to be all out of talking points for tomorrow's paper.

Carlos Ponce

"What a ridiculous statement." But you answered stating you don't believe any corporation. But you still don't see my point.

Bailey Jones

You say tomato, I say Trumpato.

Diane Turski

I agree that the laws need to be changed at the federal and the state level!! Time to end this failed attempt at another Prohibition!!

Keith Gray

Because history shows that weak minded folks will do things that will negatively impact themselves and those around them. I get it.... people still do it, so let's just quit.

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