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Texas law legalizing hemp complicating state’s ability to prosecute marijuana cases

Texas law legalizing hemp complicating state's ability to prosecute marijuana cases
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Prosecutors in Texas have dropped hundreds of low-level marijuana charges as they struggle to decipher between hemp, which the state just legalized, and marijuana products, which have higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and remain illegal, according to the Texas Tribune.

Last month, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed legislation legalizing a state-regulated hemp industry that will allow farmers to grow hemp and hemp-derived products, like cannabidiol, that have a THC concentration of less than 0.3 percent.

But Texas law enforcement says they do not have the technology to test for a THC concentration, making it impossible for them to distinguish between the legal and illegal products.

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“The distinction between marijuana and hemp requires proof of the THC concentration of a specific product or contraband, and for now, that evidence can come only from a laboratory capable of determining that type of potency — a category which apparently excludes most, if not all, of the crime labs in Texas right now,” the Texas District and County Attorneys Association said in a statement last month. They added that labs could take anywhere from four to 12 months to acquire the necessary equipment.  

District attorneys’ offices across the state are dismissing marijuana cases due to the lack of technology. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s office has dismissed 234 cases since last month. Harris County is in the process of dismissing 26, a spokesman told the Texas Tribune.  

Additionally, a crime lab scientist told the news outlet that, even if the state implements the lab equipment needed to distinguish between hemp and stronger marijuana plants, there is still an accreditation process that could take months before any newly tested evidence is used in court.

Peter Stout, the CEO and president of the crime lab used by the Houston Police Department, also told the Texas Tribune that the equipment to test the products could cost between $300,000 and $500,000.

“The plant stuff is one thing,” Stout said. “All these edibles and infused products is a whole different thing, and I don’t know what we do about that.”

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