Texas Border Business
By Texas Tribune
The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday, January 23, 2020, that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. The council’s resolution stems from Texas’ new law legalizing hemp — which looks and smells identical to marijuana.
Last summer, after the passage of a federal hemp bill, state lawmakers approved a measure to create an agricultural industry for the crop in Texas. But the law also complicated marijuana prosecutions by narrowing the legal definition of the drug from cannabis to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant.
Some district attorneys started dropping hundreds of low-level pot possession cases and stopped accepting new ones, arguing they couldn’t tell without lab testing if a substance was marijuana. New misdemeanor marijuana cases filed by Texas prosecutors have since dropped by more than half. Numerous Texas prosecutors now require police to submit lab reports on a substance’s THC concentration before they will pursue misdemeanor marijuana charges. They argue circumstantial evidence like smell can no longer be used to authoritatively say something is marijuana.
Part of what prompted the Austin resolution — which prohibits spending city funds on such testing except in felony cases — is that public state labs are still working on establishing a way to test for that THC concentration. Right now, they can only tell if something is cannabis. For some counties and cities, that has meant putting more money into shipping seized cannabis to private labs that can tell if it’s hemp or marijuana.