In Texas Hash Brownies Can Get You 10 Years to Life, No Matter How Much THC They Contain [CORRECTED]
Yesterday a lawyer for Jacob Lavoro, the Texas teenager who could face a prison sentence of 10 years to life after being caught with a pound and a half of hash brownies and cookies, told reporters that lab tests of those baked goods found they contained just 2.5 grams of THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient. Based on the 10-milligram standard set by Colorado's marijuana regulators, that's 250 doses, equivalent to less than half an ounce of high-quality marijuana. In Texas possessing two ounces or less of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of six months in jail.
But none of that matters under Texas law, which treats the brownies and cookies as if they consisted entirely of hash oil. The other ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, chocolate) are counted as "adulterants and dilutants," the weight of which is included when calculating the seriousness of the offense. Worse, the state's penalties for possessing hash oil are much more severe than its penalties for possessing marijuana buds, irrespective of THC content. Even if a pound of buds contains more THC than a pound of hash oil—which is entirely possible, given the high potency of some marijuana strains and the wide variability in hash potency—the buds will earn you a minimum sentence of six months, compared to 10 years for the hash oil. The maximum sentence for that much hash oil, or for a pound of anything containing any amount of hash oil, is life.
"I'm scared," Lavoro said yesterday. "Very scared. I'm 19 years old and still have a whole life ahead of me. Take that into account."
Not to worry, says Williamson County First Assistant District Attorney Mark Brunner, who in May explained to a puzzled world the bizarre workings of Texas drug laws. "As prosecutors," he said then, "we are bound by what the law is, not what the law should be or could be." But yesterday Williamson said his office has no intention of sending Lavoro to prison for the rest of his life. In fact, it has offered him a plea deal under which he would serve no time behind bars. In practice, then, possessing a pound and a half of hash brownies and cookies is punishable by either 0 or 10 years in prison, depending on whether the defendant decides to exercise his constitutional right to a trial.
Lavoro's lawyer, Jack Holmes, said he rejected the plea deal because he worried that a technical violation of its terms would send him to prison. Holmes also thinks he has a good shot at getting the whole case thrown out. He argues that the cops who found the illegal baked goods at the apartment in Round Rock where Lavoro was staying searched the place illegally, gaining entrance by claiming to be maintenance workers, at which point they claimed to smell marijuana.
Although Brunner wants us to know he is not the sort of crazy drug warrior who thinks Lavoro deserves a long prison sentence, he defends threatening the 19-year-old baker with that outcome. "If this was just some college kid experimenting in his friend's Easy-Bake Oven, with a reefer's worth of pot and a bunch of brownies, that'd be different," Brunner said. "This man was trying to run a business, allegedly." Just like hundreds of state-licensed marijuana entrepreneurs in Colorado and Washington, where making and selling marijuana edibles is a legitimate occupation instead of a felony.
Addendum: In the original version of this post, as Zeb pointed out in the comments, I made an egregious mistake when calculating the number of 10-milligram doses in Lavoro's baked goods, which led me to cast totally unjustified aspersions on their quality. I apologize and have corrected the post.