The Department of Public Safety [DPS] of Texas made a declaration last week that it wouldn’t perform any test for distinguishing between marijuana and hemp in misdemeanor cases. The department is ready to roll out its lab test for distinguishing between illegal marijuana and legal hemp.
Steve McCraw, the DPS director notified that state labs wouldn’t be performing any test in case of misdemeanor possession cases.
The rules pertaining to marijuana enforcement are not the same everywhere. Possessing a small amount of cannabis doesn’t invite criminal charges in one county. However, in some counties, this could mean jail time.
Misdemeanor marijuana offenses in Texas include possessing the drug up to 4 ounces. It also includes delivery or sales of up to 7 grams.
The situation arises after the Texas administration amended the meaning of marijuana the previous year for legalizing hemp. This was done to distinguish between two substances that smell and look alike.
The definition of ‘illegal drug’ altered from the cannabis plant containing over 0.3 percent THC. The concentration here being considered is that of the component that produces a “high”.
As the lawmakers pushed the legislation forward, the Department of Public Safety requested them for extra funds for testing THC levels. This was for determining if the cannabis is marijuana or not in both low-level possession cases and felony.
A letter written by McCraw clarifies that the legislature did not sanction any money for testing cannabis in a misdemeanor case. Hence, the DPS would not be able to entertain such requests.
After the amendments in the law, the prosecutors across Texas started taking different approaches towards cases pertaining to marijuana. Some are still adhering to the previous norms depending on the evidence.
Others are not taking up any low-level marijuana cases until and unless a lab report has been furnished by the police proving that the item in possession was illegal.
With public labs not producing any results, local agencies are turning to expensive private labs for testing the item possessed. Many are also leaving pot cases to the government.
This is now forcing the government scientist to come up with an alternative to distinguish between illegal marijuana and legal hemp. McCraw also said that such a test is nearly ready, and it will be possible only for plant materials. Edibles and oils wouldn’t be tested using the newly devised test.
It was for long suspected that DPS would give up on misdemeanor cases. However, there were some prosecutors who were hopeful that they could some kind of help from the state. The director of governmental relations of County Attorneys Association said, “It is yet another unfunded mandate, and it’s another hurdle to successfully prosecuting these cases”.
The new test for distinguishing between legal and illegal pot in the state labs would be finalized in March.
It would take nearly two months for DPS to implement it. The agency would then require 75 days for testing the 845 felony plant cases that they are currently dealing with before accepting any more cases.
Some law agencies have found a solution to the problem. Denton County requires the police to produce a lab report before taking up any case. Jamie Beck, First Assistant Attorney said, “Most of our agencies are using private labs. I’m going to assume they’re going to continue doing that.”
Beck also mentioned that the county has witnessed a drop in the cases pertaining to marijuana. She also shared that some police agencies in the county are not pursuing low-level cases anymore.
However, there is some pursuing them despite the high testing costs associated with them. In big cities, police agencies have their own crime labs. However, in Texas, DPS labs are the only reliable sources for testing the drug.
The decision-taking by DPS has significantly impacted midsize cities and rural communities to a greater extent. It is strongly going to affect rural enforcement agencies that lack the resources to get the tests conducted by private labs.
DPS has a long history of backlogs and limited resources. McCraw in his letter stated that DPS labs have to deal with over 50,000 felony cases in a year.
They also face 80,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases on an annual basis. DPS made it quite clear to the lawmakers the previous year that millions of dollars would be needed to assist them in criminal proceedings.