A new law in Texas is leading prosecutors to drop low-level marijuana possession charges, even though it has not legalized the drug.
The law does not address marijuana. Instead, it legalizes hemp and products derived from hemp, like CBD oil. Prosecutors say the law had unexpected consequences.
The Texas Tribune reported the new law had an unintended side effect. It makes it more difficult for police to tell if the substance in question is marijuana or hemp, prosecutors say.
The Tribune reported the issue arose because House Bill 1325 changed the definition of marijuana from specific parts of the cannabis plant to parts that contain elevated levels of tetrahydrocannabinol. This is the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis that produces a high for the user.
Texas prosecutors, district attorneys, the state’s prosecutor’s association, and crime labs lack the resources to detect the difference. In other words, defendants can claim they possess hemp and the government cannot detect the difference in low-level cases.
The Tribune reported prosecutors across Texas have dismissed hundreds of marijuana charges after the law was signed by state governor Greg Abbott on June 10, 2019.
Prosecutors will not pursue new charges without testing a substance to find out if it contains over 0.3% of THC, the now-legal limit to highlight the difference between hemp and marijuana.
The Tribune reported Tarrant County’s District Attorney’s Office has already dismissed 234 low-level marijuana cases since the new law was enacted. Harris County has dismissed at least 26.
Meanwhile, more sophisticated testing equipment that can allow a distinction to be made between hemp and cannabis is months away from reaching the labs, according to reports.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore maintains labs for Austin police and DPS, who say it will take up to a year before the equipment arrives to test THC concentrations. A crime lab scientist pointed out that even if forensic testing equipment arrives soon, there is still a lengthy accreditation process to allow the use of tested drug evidence in court.
The new law promises a period of chaos in marijuana enforcement. As law enforcement and prosecutors come to terms with the new law, many mistakes are likely to be made. Texas has a reputation for being tough on drugs. Please talk to our experienced Dallas criminal defense team if you are facing drug charges. Call (214) 720-9552.