In the six months since Texas legalized hemp and threw district attorneys an unintended curveball in marijuana cases, the number of low-level pot prosecutions has dropped by more than half, the Texas Tribune reports.
Passage of the hemp law made it harder for municipalities to prosecute marijuana cases because authorities now must conduct lab tests to tell the difference between the legal herb and weed, which Texas still hasn't legalized.
In September, Bexar County approved a $100,000 crime lab upgrade so it can confirm busts have actually yielded pot instead of hemp. But Bexar's testing focus will be on felony amounts of weed, not possession cases under four ounces.
Other municipalities have taken a similar approach.
The Texas Department of Public Safety and local crime labs are expected to introduce a new test in coming weeks that can tell marijuana from hemp, according to the Tribune
. Even so, there's no timeline for when labs will be able to figure out whether vape devices or edibles contain pot.
What's more, even when DPS's system is updated, the agency isn't about to devote time and resources to testing for the tens of thousands of misdemeanor pot busts made around the state, the Tribune
“If law enforcement agencies and prosecutors asked for all of those to be tested when these new procedures become available … DPS would start with such a huge backlog that it would likely never get caught up,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. “One decision for prosecutors and law enforcement agencies and the labs is: How do they triage these cases to focus on the most important ones?”
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