Texas is not known for cannabis-friendly regulations. Typically, pot enthusiasts are encouraged to be extremely careful in the Lonestar State—but new regulations may have inadvertently made Texas a much more 420 friendly destination.
As the dust settles from a flurry of new Texas laws that recently took effect (which includes loosening gun laws and legalizing brass knuckles one day after the Odessa shooting) it looks as if the state’s decision to legalize hemp and CBD oil may have accidentally made small cannabis possession cases unenforceable.
Hemp and CBD products containing less than 0.3 percent THC are no longer illegal in Texas. However, differentiating between cannabis and hemp is not something that can be done visually, not if authorities want to earn criminal convictions in court. Lab tests are required to make the determination, and unfortunately for Gov. Greg Abbot (who still wants officers to make arrests for small possession cases) and other opponents of decriminalization, Texas crime labs are currently not equipped for such analyses. When Gov. Abbot approved HB 1325 no additional funds were allocated for the new equipment required to make a definitive distinction between hemp and cannabis. Local governments can either pay for the equipment on their own, or throw out small cannabis possession cases.
In short, those accused of possessing cannabis can claim they actually possess legal hemp and may be able to avoid trouble. The penalty for cannabis possession of under 4 ounces still carries a possible jail sentence of up to one year and $4,000 fine. Prosecutors in some of Texas’ larger jurisdictions already have decided to throw out hundreds of small cannabis possession cases.
The timing for legalizing hemp/CBD paired with the new loophole may have been perfect for the Texas Marijuana Policy Conference. Heather Fazio, director for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, spoke at the event which drew over 350 attendees. She believes the Texas market is ripe with opportunity and that the state will benefit from more than just accidental legalization.
“People are looking to Texas to see what are we going to do because it’s a huge market that is going to be available,” Fazio said. “We would like to see this market be brought into the light of day, where there’s accountability, where it’s responsible business owners that are providing these services for patients and consumers that want them.”
While not every Texan is on board with cannabis legalization, many in senior law enforcement positions are supporting major reform. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg was keynote speaker at the conference and is looking to do much more with the resources available to her than prosecuting low-level cannabis cases.
“When I proposed to Houstonians that I thought it was more important to spend that money testing 8,000 rape kits that have been left on the shelves of Harris County for almost a decade, the public agreed,” Ogg said to a crowd who seemed to agree with her. “It’s what our people wanted us to do.”
Ogg does not seem willing to veer into any questionable territory over cannabis when it comes to her constituents civil rights.
“When it comes to people’s constitutional rights and my sacred duty as a prosecutor to see that justice is done, I don’t bluff my way through evidence requirements and burdens of proof,” Ogg said. “I don’t think that’s very democratic. I don’t think it’s American. I don’t think it’s safe.”