Texas, one of the few remaining bastions of weed prohibition, witnessed a massive slump in marijuana prosecutions ever since the state legalized hemp.
According to data from the Texas Office of Court Administration, in May 2019, 5,688 marijuana misdemeanor offenses had been filed with the state. But after the Texas legislature approved of the state’s hemp program in June, marijuana cases fell by nearly two-thirds, to just 1,919 cases filed in November 2019. In the previous year, Texas saw an average of 5,900 new weed cases filed per month, wrote Jolie McCullough at the Texas Tribune.
Hemp became legal in Texas roughly six months after President Trump signed the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which effectively decriminalized hemp nationwide. Individual states got to decide whether they’d allow hemp and how they’d regulate the plant’s cultivation, processing, packaging, distribution, and sales. Hemp and marijuana are technically the same plant — cannabis — but hemp contains negligible amounts of THC (less than 0.3% by the legal definition). Marijuana, of course, gets people lit.
Does this slump in marijuana charges mean that the Lone Star State is jumping on the weed bandwagon? Not really. Texas law enforcement currently lacks reliable drug tests that can distinguish hemp from marijuana. Courts can’t convict a defendant on marijuana charges unless prosecutors can prove that the defendant actually possessed or sold marijuana and not hemp. More reliable tests can get expensive, especially when the state is ordering over 5,000 tests per month costing anywhere from $200 to $1,000 a pop.
New, higher-tech tests will soon be available to Texas authorities, but costs alone will restrict testing to only the most serious marijuana offenses.
“If law enforcement agencies and prosecutors asked for all of those to be tested when these new procedures become available… [the Texas Department of Public Safety] would start with such a huge backlog that it would likely never get caught up,” Shannon Edmonds, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association’s director of governmental relations, told the Texas Tribune. “One decision for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies and the labs is: How do they triage these cases to focus on the most important ones?”
Due to testing costs and costs associated with calling lab technicians into court to testify, Texas prosecutors are, for the most part, ignoring misdemeanor weed cases for now.
The new weed lab test tech will become available in Texas by February, and it can distinguish cannabis that contains more than 2 percent THC from hemp. Law enforcement will prioritize testing flower first, followed by vapes and oils. Edibles will take the lowest testing priority since weed-infused foods have traditionally been the most difficult pot products to reliably test for THC content.
Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter