In the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) schedules drugs with the potential to be diverted, abused, or addictive into five categories of controlled substances. Drugs that are deemed to have no FDA-approved medicinal value are considered illegal and classified as Schedule I controlled substances. These include heroin, marijuana, ecstasy, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), methaqualone, and peyote. Schedule II drugs include drugs with high abuse and addictive potential that may also have some medicinal value, including methadone, hydromorphone, fentanyl, oxycodone, codeine, hydrocodone, methylphenidate, amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine. Drugs with lower abuse and addictive potential and high medicinal value are placed in the lower drug scheduling classifications.

Each state has their own regulations and laws governing possession, manufacturing, and distribution of these federally controlled substances within their own borders. Texas is known to be tough on crime and drugs, and it has some of the stiffest penalties in the US for drug-related offenses.

Drug Laws and Penalties for the State of Texas Explained

 

Strict laws exist within the Lone Star State for the possession of controlled substances and for the manufacturing or distribution of drugs. Penalties vary depending on the type of drug involved, the amount, possession of drug paraphernalia in addition to the drugs, how the drugs were concealed or stored, whether or not the drugs were being distributed or possessed, and any past convictions. Penalties for drug possession (or distribution) in “drug-free” zones, like those around schools, are also stiffer than in other locations; punishments are typically doubled.

Within Texas, drugs are broken down into five “penalty groups” with penalties for Penalty Group One being the harshest. Common drugs and drug types listed by the Texas Health and Safety Code are outlined below.

Penalty Group One:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Ketamine
  • Heroin
  • Oxycodone
  • Hydrocodone (over 300 grams)
  • PCP (phencyclidine)
  • GHB (gamma hydroxybutyrate)
  • Flunitrazepam (Rohypnol)
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Many other opiate and opioid derivatives

Penalty Group 1A

  • LSD

Penalty Group Two:

  • Ecstasy
  • Mescaline
  • Dronabinol (Marinol)
  • Amphetamines
  • Synthetic cannabinoids
  • Alpha-PVP and other cathinones (bath salts)

Penalty Group Three:

  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
  • Salvia divinorum
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Peyote*
  • Pentobarbital
  • Hydrocodone (less than 300 grams)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Many other benzodiazepines

Penalty Group Four:

  • Drugs with limited amounts of narcotics that also contain non-narcotic medicines, such as those containing less than 200 milliliters of codeine per 100 milliliters

* Registered and qualified members of the Native American Church with at least 25 percent Native American blood are exempt from penalties concerning peyote if the substance is used in religious ceremonies for religious purposes.

Some of these drugs are illegal substances while others are prescription medications; however, any possession or delivery of a controlled substance without a legitimate prescription incurs the penalties.

Levels of penalties and sentencing vary from jail time to fines (or both) and are broken down below.

Charge
Class C misdemeanor
Class B misdemeanor
Class A misdemeanor
State jail felony
Third-degree felony
Second-degree felony
First-degree felony

Jail time
None
Up to 180 days in county jail
Up to one year in a county jail
180 day to two years in a state prison
2-10 years in a state prison
2-20 years in a state prison
Life or 5-99 years in a state prison

Fines
Up to $500
And/or up to $200
And/or $4,000
Up to $10,000
Up to $10,000
Up to $10,000
Up to $10,000

 

The following are the charges and punishments for drug possession and manufacture or delivery in Texas, as published by Southern Methodist University (SMU):

Manufacture/Delivery

Penalty Group 1:

  • Less than one gram: state jail felony
  • More than one gram and less than four grams: second-degree felony
  • More than four grams and less than 200 grams: first-degree felony
  • More than 200 grams and less than 400 grams: life or 10-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $100,000
  • More than 400 grams: life or 10-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $200,000

Penalty Group 1A:

  • Number of abuse units is less than 20: state jail felony
  • Abuse units more than 20 and less than 80: second-degree felony
  • Abuse units more than 80 and less than 4,000: first-degree felony
  • Abuse units more than 4,000: life or 15-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $250,000

Penalty Group 2:

  • Less than one gram: state jail felony
  • More than one gram and less than four grams: second-degree felony
  • More than four grams and less than 400 grams: first-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 10-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $100,000

Penalty Groups 3 and 4:

  • Less than 28 grams: state jail felony
  • More than 28 grams and less than 200 grams: second-degree felony
  • More than 200 grams and less than 400 grams: first-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 10-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $100,000

Possession

Penalty Group 1:

  • Less than one gram: state jail felony
  • More than one gram and less than four grams: third-degree felony
  • More than four grams and less than 200 grams: second-degree felony
  • More than 200 grams and less than 400 grams: first-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 10-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $100,000

Penalty Group 1A:

  • Number of abuse units is less than 20: state jail felony
  • Abuse units more than 20 and less than 80: third-degree felony
  • Abuse units more than 80 and less than 4,000: second-degree felony
  • Abuse units more than 4,000 and less than 8,000: first-degree felony
  • Abuse units more than 8,000: life or 15-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $250,000

Penalty Group 2:

  • Less than one gram: state jail felony
  • More than one gram and less than four grams: third-degree felony
  • More than four grams and less than 400 grams: second-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 5-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $50,000

Penalty Group 3:

  • Less than 28 grams: Class A misdemeanor
  • More than 28 grams and less than 200 grams: third-degree felony
  • More than 200 grams and less than 400 grams: second-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 5-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $50,000

Penalty Group 4:

  • Less than 28 grams: Class B misdemeanor
  • More than 28 grams and less than 200 grams: third-degree felony
  • More than 200 grams and less than 400 grams: second-degree felony
  • More than 400 grams: life or 5-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $50,000

Marijuana is classified separately in the state of Texas and carries the following penalties for possession and sale:

Possession

  • Under two ounces: Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in a county jail and/or a fine of up to $2,000
  • 2-4 ounces: Class A misdemeanor
  • 4 ounces to 5 pounds: state jail felony
  • 50-2,000 pounds: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institution for life or 5-99 years in a state prison and a fine of up to $50,000

Sale

  • 25 grams or less: Class A misdemeanor if fines are paid and/or community service rendered (remuneration)
  • 25 grams or less: Class B misdemeanor if no remuneration is completed
  • 25 grams to 5 pounds: state jail felony
  • 5-50 pounds: second-degree felony
  • 50-2,000 pounds: first-degree felony punishable by life in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institution or 5-99 years and/or a fine of up to $50,000
  • Over 2,000 pounds: Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institution for life or 10-99 years in a state prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000

Delivery to a minor under the age of 17 who is enrolled in school is automatically a felony, and delivery to a minor over 0.25 ounces is a second-degree felony.

Being caught with drugs and drug paraphernalia (like a bong or crack pipe) or manufacturing or cultivating items (e.g., components for making meth or planting and harvesting marijuana) increases penalties. Driving while under the influence of drugs is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas for the first offense, punishable by a 72-hour confinement. If someone has a prior conviction for driving while intoxicated, this penalty is increased to a Class A misdemeanor and carries a sentence of at least 30 days in lockup. A second offense is considered a third-degree felony.

Diversion and Drug Courts

 

Texas spends more money on prisons and jails than any other state in the US, the Texas Tribune publishes, and many of those incarcerated are there for nonviolent offences, such as drug possession. The Times Record News reports that Texas spends around $700 million annually on cases involving low-level marijuana possession, for example.

Prison or jail may not be the answer for someone struggling with drug abuse or addiction issues. Instead, addiction treatment programs are generally considered an optimal option. In 2001, the state of Texas passed H.B. 1287, mandating that its counties (with populations over 55,000) work to establish drug courts as a method of diverting nonviolent offenders into treatment programs instead of prisons, as published by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Individuals then have the opportunity to get help for drug-related offenses and issues instead of facing jail time. Close monitoring by a judicial authority and a community supervision officer, regular drug tests, and participation in frequent treatment sessions are typically part of a diversion program. These programs generally last between a year and 18 months.

In 2012, Texas Monthly reported that there were over 3,500 people in Texas state jails for drug offenses involving less than one gram of a controlled substance. Legislation is in the pipeline to drop some of these low-level possession offenses, especially those involving marijuana, which is legal in many neighboring states (at least for medicinal purposes), to something more along the lines of a parking ticket. Diversion programs, small fines,  community service, and drug education classes are proposed instead of the current harsh penalties of jail time and high fines for small amounts of marijuana possession, NBC DFW reports. The 2017 session of the 85th Texas Legislator Session has many bills that have been proposed and are currently under review that could reform some of the harsh drug laws in the state, the Austin Chronicle publishes.

How Texas Drug Laws Compare with the Rest of the US

 

Texas is known for being tough on crime. Its prison system is meant to act as a deterrent, and in general, it is not there to rehabilitate inmates. Penalties for drug-related crimes are some of the harshest in the entire nation with the concept that if the punishment is strict, people will not do the crime for fear of the consequences. Unfortunately, this logic does not hold true, as Texas prisons are exploding. The Dallas News reports that in 2016 one of the nation’s largest prison systems, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, housed nearly 150,000 inmates.

In many other states, drug laws are not quite as harsh, and people may not be sent to prison for nonviolent offenses concerning drug possession. For instance, in Florida, possession of up to 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor while in Texas being caught with four ounces is enough to be charged with a felony and to serve time in a state jail.

The state of New York saved more than $250 million on drug-related incarceration costs when 18,000 drug offenders were diverted through Drug Courts in a three-year period. In addition, crime rates are falling at rapid rates there, the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP) reports. New York has had Drug Courts in place for over 20 years. Instead of harsh punishments, New Yorkers who are suffering from drug-related addiction issues are getting the help they need. NADCP further reports that three-quarters of graduates of Drug Courts remain arrest-free for at least two years, and Drug Courts reduce crime by almost 50 percent when compared to other sentencing options.

On a local level, many law enforcement agencies around Texas already impose less severe penalties for low-level drug possession offenses. Reform is currently in progress to address harsh drug penalties at a legislative level.