After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, Texas along with many other states passed legislation permitting farmers to get into hemp-growing business. However, little did the lawmakers know that the move would create a haze of confusion for law-enforcement authorities as most crime labs around the state don’t have the means and the resources to do the testing which could differentiate hemp from its illegal cousin, marijuana.
According to Texas’ new law — which follows the guidelines in the Farm Bill — a cannabis plant is hemp if it contains less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and marijuana if it contains more.
Earlier, authorities in Texas were just required to show whether THC was present in a sample or not. However, now they have to also figure out the quantity of the psychoactive chemical present to prove that it is marijuana.
Most crime labs across the state though do not have the equipment and trained personnel to carry out the tests that determine the quantity of THC, said Peter Stout, president of the Houston Forensic Science Center. “I think that the Texas Legislature was looking to construct a law that didn’t legalize marijuana while allowing for hemp to be produced legally. However, it created some unintended consequences.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety earlier said that it could cost the agency a figure as enormous as $20 million to appoint and train new staff. Furthermore, the Houston Forensic Science Center may initially require up to $1 million, followed by $500,000 every year, to continue doing the testing, which takes longer and is harder as compared with what was previously done.
District attorneys in four Texas counties — including the ones where Houston and San Antonio are located — met last week to sign a letter which says that they will stop accepting misdemeanor marijuana cases of 4 ounces (113 grams) or less that don’t have a laboratory test result confirming the THC concentration.
As a result, The Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney’s Office has dismissed 234 misdemeanor marijuana cases and The Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston has shunned 26 such cases.