How Did Texas Accidentally Decriminalize Cannabis?
Over in the Lone Star state, cannabis laws are starting to become significantly less restrictive. But it seems like that may not have been an intentional decision. As America has rushed to expand the production of industrial hemp, new laws have passed that were meant to speed up production but instead have caused headaches for attorneys and police forces in some U.S. states like Texas.
The 2018 Farm Bill was responsible for legalizing hemp for commercial production, which caused a shakeup in Texas and other states like Ohio and Florida. The Farm Bill passed last June and changed the legal classification of what was considered hemp and what was considered federally illegal marijuana. Under this new law, anything with less than 0.3 percent THC concentration is considered hemp, while anything over that percentage is considered marijuana.
While this standard seems simple enough, problems have arisen due to the lack of available testing equipment that crime labs have to test THC concentration. According to the Texas State Police, they don’t currently possess technology advanced enough to distinguish the specific level of THC concentration in the cannabis they confiscate. The technology is expensive, and while Texas crime labs may have it one day, they don’t at the moment, which has created a significant difficulty in enforcing the new law.
In a memo, the Texas District & County Attorneys Association stated, “Until [there is proper testing equipment], there will be no easy way to determine whether the weed your offices seize is illegal marijuana.”
Without access to a method to accurately test the concentrated THC percentage, prosecutors don’t feel comfortable accepting new marijuana possession cases. Some prosecutors across Texas are dismissing marijuana misdemeanors because the new laws have made it a struggle for them to distinguish legal hemp from federally illegal marijuana.
These differing applications of the law have created a climate of confusion in Texas surrounding low-level marijuana charges. Whether you’re charged harshly or let go with a slap on the wrist really depends on where you’re caught.
Harris County is one of the Texas counties that vowed to toss out misdemeanor marijuana possession charges. They’ve also created a program to help keep people charged with marijuana offenses out of jail.
However, not everyone is on the same page or happy with the confusion caused by the new laws. While many prosecutors are tossing out cases, the Hays County district attorney has decided to continue prosecuting all low-level marijuana cases.
Many people believe that the Farm Bill’s definitions of marijuana and hemp need to be changed. In a letter to Texas District and County Attorneys, Texas Governor Greg Abbot (R) said, “Failing to enforce mariuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas.” This letter was also co-signed by the leadership of Texas’s Republican party.
Enforcement of cannabis prohibition in Texas is still evolving in the post-Farm Bill landscape, but many consider the recent changes a step in the right direction, particularly in a state that has always been strict regarding marijuana. The Legal Marijuana Advocates in Texas are pleased with the progress that has been made in the Lone Star state, even if it may only be the accidental byproduct of a new federal law.
As marijuana laws continue to change and ideals clash, the legal definition of marijuana continues to be in limbo in certain states across America. And it seems that regardless of what federal law says or Republican leaders believe, the people of Texas know what they want. A poll taken by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune showed that most Texas voters believe that marijuana should be legalized in their state. While legalization in Texas may be years or decades away, it seems it might finally be on the horizon.