Originally published by Family and Criminal Law Blog.
What are the benefits of decriminalizing marijuana in Texas?
In June of 2019, Texas lawmakers passed a bill allowing for the growth and sale of hemp. Several lawmakers emphasized to the public that the measure solely legalized hemp and did not represent a movement towards the legalization of marijuana. However, since the passage of the new hemp law, police officers across the state have struggled to distinguish marijuana from legal hemp. Prosecutors in several cities, including Austin, Houston, and San Antonio have reported dropping some marijuana possession charges because they simply do not have the time or equipment to test and assess what substances are legal and which are not.
Texas Cities Taking Steps Towards Decriminalization
Recognizing the ongoing issues to come for law enforcement officers, the Austin City Council will soon vote on a proposal that would essentially end arrests and fines for personal amounts of marijuana. The law would direct police officers to stop arresting or citing people with low-level marijuana cases in which the officers will struggle to test the substance to determine whether it is hemp or marijuana. The measure is expected to save the city from spending funds on laboratory testing. It is likely that other cities may pass similar legislation out of necessity.
Texas is not alone in facing this almost need to decriminalize as a consequence of legalizing hemp. Florida similarly legalized hemp just a month after Texas. Florida prosecutors report similar struggles. Before the legalization of hemp, laboratories would look for the hairs on marijuana flowers and test for the presence of cannabinoids. This process was quick and cost-effective. With hemp legal, labs must now analyze the THC concentration of the substance to assess whether it is legally considered marijuana or hemp. This can cost hundreds of dollars per test.
As Texas and Florida lawmakers struggle to determine whether legalization of marijuana is best for their states, other states have found advantages to decriminalization. Marijuana-related arrests tend to clog the docket and increase jail expenses. By instead citing defendants or simply not taking action when people are found to have small amounts of marijuana, cities can save funds and resources for the more significant crimes. For now, anyone in Texas arrested for possession of marijuana should contact a criminal defense lawyer for assistance fighting their charge.