Texas Republicans accidentally gave a green light to small amounts of pot

by | Jul 4, 2019 | Criminal Justice, Policy

Republicans unknowingly invited a smoking Trojan horse filled with pot into Texas law.

This week, multiple county district attorney offices around the state announced they would no longer be accepting criminal charges for misdemeanor possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana. The reason: a new bill recently signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott legalizing the growth of hemp as a crop.

Hemp is now legal; weed still isn’t. But without lab tests, there’s no way for law enforcement to know if someone is smoking hemp or marijuana. Both look and smell the same.

And county prosecutors don’t yet possess the means to easily test how much THC is in hemp versus cannabis. There “maybe two” testing machines in the whole state, Harris County District Attorney First Assistant David Mitcham told The Texas Signal.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office provided new policy guidance this week.

“In order to follow the law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office 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 of over .3%,” the DA’s office said in a statement. “Felony Marijuana charges will be evaluated on a case by case basis.”

Other district attorney offices — in Bexar, Fort Bend and Nueces counties– have signed onto the policy. So far, hundreds of pending marijuana cases have been tabled across the state.

Harris County has reduced marijuana misdemeanor possession by 80 percent since March thanks to a pre-charge diversion program, Since taking office, Mitcham estimated that Ogg’s office has diverted 14,000 marijuana misdemeanor cases.

It’s hard, then, not to see a potential silver lining in what seems to be a legislative blunder of changing the definition of hemp, subsequently creating a new legal definition of marijuana. Incompetence isn’t always a bad thing.

Texas Agri­cul­ture Commissioner Sid Miller, a loud voice against the legalization of marijuana, must be eating his words. In April, while stumping for the hemp bill on KXAS-TV, Miller promised viewers that “if you are a pothead, this is not going to help you, okay.” Calls to Miller’s office were not returned.

Conservative lawmakers who backed the hemp bill must allow now reckon with the fact that they helped, at least for now, pass a bill making small amounts of pot not prosecutable.

fernando@texassignal.com | + posts

Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at fernando@texassignal.com

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