The decision of Texas lawmakers to legalize hemp last year had wide-ranging and unforeseen consequences. Although the legislation did not address marijuana, prosecutors started to drop hundreds of low-level marijuana possession charges.
Now the City of Austin is considering its own solution by effectively decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot altogether.
The Austin City Council is to vote on a proposal later this month to end arrests and fines by city police for possession of personal amounts of cannabis, according to The Texas Tribune.
Four progressive members of the 11-strong council drew up a motion that would direct police to no longer arrest people or issue citations for low-level marijuana possession where police can’t get lab reports that distinguish between marijuana and hemp which is now legal. The motion, if passed, would prevent the city from spending funds or using its staff to perform tests.
The Austin measure is a response to state lawmakers’ legalization of hemp last June. The law was meant to boost the hemp agriculture industry in Texas. It amended the legal definition of marijuana from the cannabis plant to cannabis that contains over 0.3% THC, the ingredient in the plant that gives users a high.
The change in the law complicated marijuana possession cases. Texas prosecutors now need lab reports giving them THC concentration levels before they can pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. Even a substance that smells like marijuana can be legal hemp.
Prosecutors, district attorneys, and crime labs lack the resources to test for suspected marijuana in the many low-level possession cases. Hundreds of charges have been dismissed since the legislation was passed last summer.
The Tribune noted Austin police moved toward a cite-and-release program for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Police officers may issue a ticket stating when the person should show up in court to face criminal prosecution instead of being arrested.
The Travis county attorney in Austin has filed only four misdemeanor marijuana possession cases since July, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. The Tribune noted 1,000 were filed in the first half of 2019.
The local district attorney in Dallas said before the hemp law was brought in he would not pursue first-time marijuana offenses. However, Dallas Police say they are making marijuana possession arrests as normal. The cases are either rejected or sent back until police conduct lab testing.
Texas takes drug offenses very seriously, even at a time when an increasing number of states are decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. If you or a family member has been charged with a drug offense, please contact our Dallas drug defense attorneys as soon as possible at (214) 720-9552.