For most of us, 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride of a year with massive changes in our work and personal lives. In November things shifted even more with changes to drug laws in states across the country. We expect further changes to how law enforcement perceives and responds to drug use to continue in the coming year. Starting around 1973, states began lowering the penalties for drug possession, introducing “medical” marijuana laws in the late 1990’s. The first states to legalize recreational use of cannabis were Colorado and Washington in 2012. The push for loosing of drug laws continued over the last eight years, with more states approving cannabis for medical or recreational use. By 2020, the number of states where recreational use of cannabis for adults was legal had grown to 15. Those states are Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Montana, South Dakota, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine. There are only six states remaining that do not have any form of legalization or decriminalization of cannabis, whether for medical or recreational use.
Voters in Oregon this month took it a step further by approving Measure 110. This measure reclassifies personal/non-commercial possession of small amounts of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other drugs in drug schedule I through IV. In Oregon, possessing small amounts of such drugs garners you a $100.00 fine or a completed health assessment through a state funded addiction recovery center. Larger amounts of the scheduled drugs can still result in misdemeanor charges, with commercial level amounts being charged as felonies. Oregon created a program for administering psilocybin (“magic” mushrooms) for adults 21 and older. The idea was to allow use of the drug for the treatment of depression, anxiety, and other conditions through psilocybin service centers.
After passage of the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, Texas began drafting regulations on the growing of hemp (marijuana with a THC level <0.3%) and the production of hemp products. This has led to a flood of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) products entering the state. In some areas, this has resulted in changes in how low-level marijuana cases were prosecuted. So far there have been 18 House and Senate bills pre-filed for the upcoming Texas legislative session that address cannabis. These bills include changes to marijuana related crimes, regulation of cannabis products, drug testing for applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, etc. It is possible that we could see changes to cannabis law during this upcoming legislative session.
Many see this as being a shift in public attitude against a continuation of the 1970’s “War on Drugs”. There is still a real concern that the legalization of cannabis could lead to an overall rise in drug usage rates, easier access to drugs by minors, increases to impaired driving rates, along with other problems. In the coming months law enforcement may find itself having to confront a whole new set of problems. It is best to start preparing now for what may occur in the next few years.
No matter what the future holds for Texas when it comes to cannabis or other drugs, law enforcement will adjust and confront the problems as they arise. With the possibility of an increase in drugged driving and the use of drugs by minors, law enforcement needs to be prepared to identify those who are under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs, and to take the proper action. The Focus on Reducing Impaired Driving Among Youth (FRIDAY) program offers free training in underage impaired driving enforcement and substance abuse prevention to law enforcement, school and college employees, court clerks, coalition members, nurses, etc. During Pre-COVID times, we would bring our 1-, 2-, 4-, or 8-hour training classes to your organization. We report TCOLE credit for law enforcement and provide Continuing Professional Educator (CPE) certificates for educators. While you can still schedule in-person classes for 2021, we are offering our full lineup of classes online. Email any of our FRIDAY staff to schedule a class! Lead Instructor Mark Busbee (firstname.lastname@example.org), Staff Instructor Tamara Spencer (email@example.com), or Program Assistant Kimberly Garza (firstname.lastname@example.org) are available to answer your questions.
Ballotpedia (2020). “Oregon measure 109, psilocybin mushroom services program initiative (2020).” Retrieved from: https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Measure_109,_Psilocybin_Mushroom_Services_Program_Initiative_(2020)#How_did_Measure_109_change_psilocybin_laws_in_Oregon.3F
Ballotpedia (2020). “Oregon measure 110, drug decriminalization and addiction treatment initiative (2020). Retrieved from: https://ballotpedia.org/Oregon_Measure_110,_Drug_Decriminalization_and_Addiction_Treatment_Initiative_(2020)
Fuller, T. (2020). “Oregon decriminalizes small amounts of heroin and cocaine; four states legalize marijuana.” The New York Times, November 7th, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/04/us/ballot-measures-propositions-2020.html
Luscombe, R. (2020). “How marijuana legalization made strides across the US in this election.” The Guardian, November 14th, 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/14/marijuana-legalization-us-elections-2020