Texas passed a hemp law in June 2019 allowing farmers to earn money from a new crop. But this new law had the unintended effect of lowering the number of drug charges for misdemeanor marijuana possession and complicating these prosecutions across Texas.
The state legislature passed this law unanimously when bills to decriminalize marijuana failed. The hemp law changed the definition of marijuana. This added costs and complexities to prosecutions.
In the past, prosecutors relied on the testimony of an experienced police officer to substantiate that a substance was marijuana. But the new law defined legal hemp as the same plant but with a concentration of less than three percent THC, which is the chemical that causes marijuana’s inducement of euphoria.
This required law enforcement to have laboratories perform tests to distinguish the difference between the substances. Right now, only private laboratories are qualified to perform these tests. Their costs range from $88 to $400.
By Aug. 2019 the number of these prosecutions in the state dropped by half, according to the Texas Office of Court Administration. District Attorneys in Tarrant, Dallas and Denton Counties decided that they could not accept marijuana possession cases filed by local law enforcement.
The Collin County district attorney’s office said that it is not refusing cases even though these prosecutions fell by over 80 percent. That office is keeping cases open until a state laboratory may perform affordable testing. Internal data even showed a slight increase in the number of cases being accepted.
The Austin City Council unanimously voted to prohibit the use of its resources to prosecute marijuana misdemeanor cases in Jan. because the new testing is time consuming, costly and drains local and county resources.
Other cities, however, approved more expenditures for this testing. Plano approved an additional $49,000 for testing in Aug. Frisco has spent over $13,000 for testing THC in dozens of cases. Denton’s police continued to pay for these tests and only had an eight percent drop in new prosecutions which is also attributable to referring cases to rehabilitation programs instead of prosecution.
The new law and different standards used throughout Texas indicates that anyone facing these possession charges in Bexar County and throughout the state may have grounds to contest these charges. An attorney can help protect rights.