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Home | News | Texas leaders: Hemp law did not decriminalize marijuana
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Texas leaders: Hemp law did not decriminalize marijuana

Weeks after Texas prosecutors began dropping hundreds of marijuana cases and stopped actively pursuing criminal charges because of complications that arose from legalizing hemp, the state’s leaders have stepped into the fray.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, all Republicans, sent a letter Thursday to Texas district and county attorneys, emphasizing that a new hemp law does not decriminalize marijuana. They wrote that the prosecutors who have stepped back from marijuana charges after stating they cannot legally distinguish between legal hemp and marijuana without further testing — almost all of those in the state’s most 10 populous counties — misunderstand the new law.

“Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas,” stated the letter.

House Bill 1325, which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products like CBD oil, soared through the Texas Legislature this year and was signed into law June 10 by Abbott. Since then, numerous Republican and Democratic district attorneys have said they can no longer actively pursue misdemeanor marijuana cases because the new law changed the definition of marijuana. Before, marijuana was defined as parts of the cannabis plant, but now it is only those parts that contain more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces a high. Cannabis below that level is now hemp.

The attorneys and forensic experts have said equipment they have in public crime labs can’t accurately prove how much THC is in cannabis. Circumstantial evidence, like the smell of marijuana, no longer gives them enough credibility in court, where defendants could claim the substance they possessed was instead hemp.

“The plant is the plant, so the stuff smells the same no matter the THC concentration,” Lynn Garcia, general counsel with the Texas Forensic Science Commission, told The Texas Tribune earlier this week.

But the letter to prosecutors says lab reports aren’t necessary in every marijuana case.

“Criminal cases may be prosecuted with lab tests or with the tried-and-true use of circumstantial evidence, a point some of you have already made clear in this context,” the letter states, pointing to a Tribune article on El Paso’s district attorney saying he will move forward on marijuana prosecution without lab reports.

The letter also points out that companies and labs were already developing equipment to test THC concentration before HB 1325 was enacted, and competition will lead to declining costs — initial estimates of which were in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. No funds for additional marijuana testing were included in the passage of the hemp law.

Still, there is little action state leaders can take when they disagree with locally elected prosecutors. In Texas, the Attorney General’s Office can typically only get involved with prosecutions at the invitation of local leadership. And local prosecutors’ offices don’t rely on the state for the bulk of their budgets.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who has said her office will not prosecutelow-level marijuana cases without a lab report, responded to the letter and said that it is up to the courts to interpret this law.

“Prosecutors have an ethical duty to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and laboratory confirmation in drug cases has long been required,” she said in a statement. “When a person’s liberty is at stake, juries demand nothing less.”

The state’s hemp law was enacted to match the federal Farm Bill passed last year, which allowed for states to develop their own plans to regulate the production and sale of hemp. The Texas Department of Agriculture, under the state law, will regulate hemp, but the plan on how to do that has not yet been established.

Author:  JOLIE MCCULLOUGH – The Texas Tribune

Read related Tribune coverage

About The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Facebook (@TexasTribune) Twitter (@TexasTribune) Instagram (@Texas_Tribune)

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12 comments

  1. STOMP OUT GOP WHITE SUPREMACY!

    Give Gregg Abbott the PUSH! down the stairs,see if his wheel chair can take the free fall, then get up and start walking.VOTE THIS ASS HOLE OUT OF OFFICE! or RECALL HIM!

    • The Original MAGA

      Typical liberal hate. Anti-American, anti-constitution, anti-semitic, misogynistic, racist and now anti-disabled. The democraps are clearly the party of hate. Plus I believe this is a threat against an elected official and should be investigated.

      • STOMP OUT GOP WHITE SUPREMACY!

        Typical ASS WIPE DENIER! it’s your FASCIST GOP DEPLORABLE CULT that is ANTI AMERICA! ANTI CONSTITUTION! ANTI SEMITIC! HUSH PAYMENTS FOR PORN STARS! COVER UP and DEFLECT for a WHITE NATIONALIST SUPREMACIST NAZI DOTARD!
        The republicanus NEANDERTHALUS are the PARTY of Vladimir Putin and the RACIST Of Human Beings.
        You are the one that should be investigated for molesting children ORIGINAL CACA!
        TRUMP FOR PRISON IN 2021!
        STOMP OUT GOP WHITE SUPREMACY!

        • The Original MAGA

          Do you have an actual brain? Other than capitalized rants that are the same every tine you have never presented a factual, fact based post on anything. All you do is take what someone else says , repeat it and then act like you said it thats what 10 year old chikdren do, “i know you are but what am I?”. I understand that the DNC has no political platform to stand on other to destroy Anerica but please try to come up with something that you can factually support.

  2. Alberto the pothead crying. But oh wait he smokes that nasty schwag weed.

    Alberto for prison 2019.

    • STOMP OUT GOP WHITE SUPREMACY!

      Fero smokes farts out of plastic straws off peoples ass holes! as I continue to dominate him inside his worthless hollow skull. Disgusting piece of SHIT! ass wipe. He finds me here, but he stays up late at night on the KKKVIA forum,to see if I’ll come around to post.
      Only losers post on the KKKVIA forum, HA HA HA HA HA HA, just another easy beat down of this scumbag Fero.
      I live RENT FREE! in Fero’s section 8 mind 24/7! He can’t raise the rent and he can’t evict as i follow him around day in day out.
      No Fero, you’ll end up in prison, seems you’ve already been there! and you are going back and you are taking Mad Mike with you. Your Butt F buddy.
      TRUMP FOR PRISON IN 2021!
      how’s those hershey squirts coming along Fero, don’t forget to wipe your mouth, PUNK ASS!

      • Alberto the delusional psychotic turd for prison 2019.

        Trump 2020!

      • What’s the matter Alberto? Where did your rants go at KKKVIA? Disappeared? Too bad moron. You’re the one getting beat down. LMAO.

        BTW – You couldn’t even beat down a 5 year old kid.

        Alberto for prison 2019.

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