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 flourish unhindered.
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 being.
“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.