A change of law relating to hemp may also have inadvertently
relaxed the legal status of marijuana in Texas.
When House Bill 1325 was pushed through Austin City
Offices it was designed to allow the rapidly expanding hemp industry to
However, a curious by-product of the legislation
appears to have been the unwitting decriminalisation of cannabis, albeit
temporary in many eyes.
Technically speaking, cannabis is illegal in the
Lone Star State, but the alteration to the legality of hemp has now made it
almost impossible for the police to charge someone for possession. Law
enforcement agencies lack the equipment able to properly test a substance in a
way that distinguishes hemp from marijuana, therefore it has become extremely
difficult to prosecute someone for possession of cannabis.
As a result, lawmakers throughout the state have now dropped hundreds of low-level drugs charges, and have stated they will be unable to complete new prosecutions.
The issue centres around tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that delivers the buzz or ‘high’ for users – and the way bill 1325 classes certain parts of the cannabis plant as being legal due to its lower level of THC from other parts of the plant.
Crime labs across Texas have all declared they
simply do not possess the resources to be able to ascertain the distinction
between the different varieties.
The result means, essentially, that defendants charged
with possession of small amounts of marijuana now need only to claim it is hemp,
and it is unlikely the case will proceed.
An advisory note from the Texas District and County
Attorneys Association explained its stance – and revealed a little frustration –
at the situation.
“The distinction between marijuana
and hemp requires proof of the THC concentration of a specific product or
contraband,” it stated.
“And for now, that evidence can come only from a laboratory capable of determining that type of potency — a category which apparently excludes most, if not all, of the crime labs in Texas right now.”
Possession cases have now been dropped throughout Texas since the bill was signed by Republican governor Greg Abbott, and legal authorities have suggested they do not intend to chase further prosecutions.
This morning, a joint statement from the
district attorneys in the counties of Harris, Bexar, Nueces and Fort Bend said:
“In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the
Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions will not accept criminal charges for
Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result
proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over .3%.”
Similar declarations have already
been made by Tarrant and Travis counties.
Margaret Moore, DA for Travis, has told
police departments to forget about cannabis-related felony cases for the time
“I will be informing the law
enforcement agencies by letter not to file marijuana or THC felony cases
without consulting with the DA’s Office first to determine whether the
necessary lab testing can be obtained,” she said.
Mrs Moore said she understood that labs
in Austin informed her that it could take another 12 months before they have
the ability to test THC concentration, if at all.
The DA pointed out, however, that
other counties have not yet decided to drop cases, but instead may opt to ‘shelve’
them until better testing becomes available.
As for the legal state of marijuana in Texas, it is still a criminal offence until such time as US lawmakers deem it otherwise.