In their haste to legalize hemp, Texas Republicans accidentally decriminalized marijuana, resulting in hundreds of felony and misdemeanor cases being dropped against those charged with possession.
Many states have legalized marijuana in recent years. So many, in fact, those revenues from marijuana are expected to surpass NFL revenues by 2020. With that revelation, some might say that Americans love weed more than football.
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However, many Republicans still think of marijuana as a gateway drug that is from Satan, which means many red states continue to criminalize it. That includes Texas. Well, sort of.
GOP state Senator Charles Perry introduced a bill to decriminalize hemp containing 0.3% or less of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
The problem is that now state forensics labs can’t tell the difference between whether a substance is hemp or marijuana.
According to the Texas Tribune:
Among other provisions, House Bill 1325 changed the definition of marijuana from certain parts of the cannabis plant to those parts that contain a higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces a high. It’s a difference numerous district attorneys, the state’s prosecutor’s association and state crime labs say they don’t have the resources to detect, weakening marijuana cases where defendants could claim the substance is instead hemp.
The new law has made prosecuting possession cases almost impossible, so many cases have been dropped and won’t be pursued.
“The distinction between marijuana and hemp requires proof of the THC concentration of a specific product or contraband, and for now, that evidence can come only from a laboratory capable of determining that type of potency — a category which apparently excludes most, if not all, of the crime labs in Texas right now,” the Texas District and County Attorneys Association warned last month prior to passage of the bill.
Travis County alone has already dropped 32 felony and 61 misdemeanor marijuana and THC cases.
“I will also be informing the law enforcement agencies by letter not to file marijuana or THC felony cases without consulting with the DA’s Office first to determine whether the necessary lab testing can be obtained,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore said.
And several other Texas District Attorneys released a joint statement announcing that they will not pursue cases of possession under four ounces.
“In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions will not accept criminal charges for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over .3%,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Perry thinks Texas officials can easily pursue testing elsewhere or get new equipment.
“Although the capacity may not be there yet to receive quick lab results, there are labs ready to receive and test products today,” Perry told the Texas Tribune. “We are having daily conversations with law enforcement, prosecutors and hemp stakeholders to address and solve any concerns that exist as capacity catches up.”
Except that the equipment necessary to distinguish between marijuana and hemp cost between $300,000 and $500,000, a significant waste to taxpayers over recreational marijuana that means absolutely no harm.
Legalizing marijuana reduces costs to taxpayers, clears crime labs to analyze evidence to solve real crimes and reduces the prison population.
All of those are good things in addition to the massive tax revenues Texas would stand to gain by legalizing marijuana.
For now, marijuana is technically not decriminalized, but as long as Texas lacks the necessary equipment to start persecuting smokers again, feel free to light up as long as your joint weighs under four ounces.
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