The Texas Department of Public Safety will no longer arrest individuals found in possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana. Instead, the Lone Star State’s largest law enforcement agency will take a cite-and-release approach. The new policy was announced in a memorandum sent to DPS offices on July 10 and will only be applied when individuals are stopped by officers in the counties they reside in. However, marijuana remains illegal in Texas, and individuals caught in possession of the drug will still face up to a year in jail if convicted.
The revised DPS marijuana policy is being implemented less than a month after the passage of a bill legalizing the cultivation of hemp in Texas. When Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 into law, prosecutors in several municipalities announced that they would no longer prosecute low-level marijuana crimes. The prosecutors said that pursuing these cases would be futile as state crime laboratories lacked the equipment necessary to differentiate between illegal marijuana and legal hemp.
The problem facing forensic scientists is that hemp and marijuana come from the same plant and can only be told apart by measuring their THC levels. Prosecutors say that they will be unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that criminal defendants possessed marijuana and not hemp until state crime labs are able to test for THC.
Dozens of states allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes, and several have legalized the recreational use of the drug. This means that Texas residents could face months or even years in jail for acts that would not even warrant a ticket in other parts of the country. Experienced criminal defense attorneys may point this out to prosecutors when discussing mitigating circumstances during plea negotiations. Other factors that might encourage prosecutors to reduce drug charges or penalties include genuine remorse, gainful full-time employment, a previously unblemished criminal record and the support of friends and family members.