AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - In a letter, Governor Greg Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, say county and district attorneys dismissing marijuana related cases, have misunderstood the new legislation they’re using to justify dropping cases.
The letter stressed that marijuana has not been decriminalized in the state.
“I think what they’ve done is made it very much more difficult to make marijuana cases. I don’t think they decriminalized it but they certainly made it more difficult.” explained Travis County District Attorney, Margaret Moore.
The whole debacle began in 2018, when congress differentiated hemp from marijuana, setting a tetrahydrocannabinol, or “THC” threshold of .3 percent. The bill also encouraged each state to take authority over hemp regulation.
That’s what Texas did -- with a bill that adopted the same .3 percent THC threshold for hemp.
That is where prosecutors say things got tricky. Many have told FOX 7 they’re unable to prove if a defendant was in possession of hemp or marijuana, without a specialized lab test.
Moore says additional resources “will ultimately be required” by the Department of Public Safety, and by the Austin Police Department. “But, both of them have told me they think it will be 8 to 12 months before they’re able to do the requisite testing. So, it’s costing some additional taxpayer money to get this done. In the meantime to get the testing done I have not been able to identify a specific lab or other entity.” she said.
Since June 10, Moore says there have been over 40 felony marijuna cases dismissed. “Pending further investigation, so that we would have time to examine the seriousness of the cases and decide whether we should expend additional public resources to do the testing.”
There have also been dozens of misdemeanor cases dismissed -- and Travis County is not alone. This is something happening throughout the state. Though Thursdays letter says it should not be.
The letter points out that anybody claiming to transport hemp must produce a certificate. Failure to produce that certificate is it’s own misdemeanor. The letter argues the new misdemeanor charge -- a civil penalty, that carrying an up to $500 fine -- is an additional tool to crackdown on marijuana related offenses, not a reason to drop them. It also urges prosecutors to use evidence based methods until lab tests become more accessible.
“I believe that our defense bar in Travis County is quite adept and they will test this law.” said Moore. She added, “I think that if they want us to prosecute marijuana cases they probably oughta look at the resources to allow us to do it.”