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Texas Prosecutors End Some Marijuana Prosecutions Under New Hemp Law

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The new law changed the definition of marijuana, and prosecutors and crime labs say they don’t have the resources to test if a substance is legal hemp or marijuana.

By Jolie McCullough and Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune

Because of a new state law, prosecutors across Texas have dropped hundreds of low-level marijuana charges and have indicated they won’t pursue new ones without further testing.

But the law didn’t decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption. It legalized hemp and hemp-derived products, like CBD oil.

An unintended side effect of the law is that it has made it difficult for law enforcement to tell if a substance is marijuana or hemp, according to prosecutors. Among other provisions, House Bill 1325 changed the definition of marijuana from certain parts of the cannabis plant to those parts that contain a higher level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces a high. It’s a difference numerous district attorneys, the state’s prosecutor’s association and crime labs say they don’t have the resources to detect, weakening marijuana cases where defendants could claim the substance is instead hemp.

“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,” stated an advisory released by the Texas District and County Attorneys Association last month.

Some involved in the hemp legislation have countered that there is already available equipment to test suspected drugs, even if it isn’t in most crime labs.

Still, top prosecutors from across the state and political spectrum — from Harris to Tarrant counties — have dismissed hundreds of pending misdemeanor marijuana charges since the law was signed by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and immediately went into effect on June 10. They have also signaled they won’t pursue any new charges without testing a substance to indicate if there is more than .3% of THC, the now-legal limit to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

“In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions… will not accept criminal charges for Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over .3%,” wrote the district attorneys from Harris, Fort Bend, Bexar and Nueces counties in a new joint policy released Wednesday morning.

Tarrant County’s District Attorney’s Office previously issued a similar statement, and since last month has dismissed 234 low-level marijuana cases. Harris is in the process of dismissing 26, according to a spokesperson. The counties have said they will still pursue felony marijuana cases, and say they have the option to refile and later pursue charges in marijuana arrests if testing resources become available.

For now, it’s unclear when that could be, and until a process is put in place, prosecutors will “have all these marijuana cases where someone can argue it’s hemp,” said Lisa Pittman, a cannabis law attorney.

“They have to just table those cases,” she said.

A crime lab scientist said even if he gets new forensic testing equipment right away, there is still a months-long accreditation process to be able to use tested drug evidence in court.

Peter Stout, the CEO and president of the crime lab used by the Houston Police Department, said until the law went into effect on June 10, all that was required to identify something as marijuana was a quick test to check for the presence of cannabinoids in things like a plant, gummy or vape pen oil. Determining how much, if any, THC is present, is much more complicated, he said, and he is unable to do it now.

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

Testing can be done, Stout said, but equipment to test forensic quality on those types of products — needed to determine if it is a controlled substance under state criminal definitions — costs between $300,000 and $500,000. He estimated more than 20 labs would need such equipment to cover the state, and each would then need to go through the accreditation process.

“People can comply with the law if given the tools to do it, it’s just going to cost time and money,” said Shannon Edmonds, director of governmental relations for the prosecutor association.

But the Republican Senate sponsor of the hemp legislation, state Sen. Charles Perry of Lubbock, argued there’s already sufficient technology readily available for counties that need it to test suspected marijuana. Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last month she believed her office had found two labs.

“Although the capacity may not be there yet to receive quick lab results, there are labs ready to receive and test products today,” Perry told the Texas Tribune. “We are having daily conversations with law enforcement, prosecutors, and hemp stakeholders to address and solve any concerns that exist as capacity catches up.”

He added that under the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp that contains no more than 0.3% THC at the federal level, hemp and hemp products would have been crossing state lines anyway — even without legislative action.

“Before the Texas Hemp Bill passed, hemp-derived products could enter our state and be bought and sold with little to no oversight,” Perry said. “In fact, the 2018 Farm Bill prohibits states from restricting the transportation of hemp with less than 0.3% THC. With the passage of the Texas Hemp Bill, we now have proper regulations in place to protect Texas consumers at every turn.”

The state legislation, which called for no funding to purchase crime lab equipment, sailed through the Legislature unanimously largely because of the federal law. Because of the overwhelming support, when Abbott signed the bill on June 10, it went into effect right away — which is part of the problem, according to prosecutors.

“This new law took effect immediately, without the usual grace period during which the procedures and regulations are decided and put in place to support law changes,” the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Stout said he didn’t know about the changing marijuana definition in the bill until after it was too late to testify, since the bill went through agricultural committees, not the ones that handle criminal procedure. Abbott’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

The scramble among several district attorneys comes months after lawmakers rejected a bill by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, that would have lessened the criminal penalties for Texans found to possess small amounts of marijuana. But prosecutors have noted that the dropped cases and change in policy isn’t decriminalization.

Tarrant County’s 234 dismissals can be refiled within two years if lab results are able to be produced, according to a spokesperson. And Harris County is continuing its marijuana diversion program, which allows those suspected of possessing small amounts of marijuana to complete a four hour class instead of being arrested. If people decide not to take the class, they can “wait and see if labs will become certified.”

But in the meantime, at least in some parts of the state, it appears some marijuana convictions have been placed in limbo.

“You may have to put your marijuana cases on the same ‘waiting for lab results’ shelf as your felony DNA cases and postpone them until the labs can provide the needed evidence for prosecution,” said the prosecutor association advisory.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas Governor Signs Bill To Expand State’s Medical Marijuana Program

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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Marijuana Had ‘Unprecedented’ Success In State Legislatures In 2021, NORML Report Shows

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Lawmakers across the U.S. proved again in 2021 that marijuana reform will continue to advance on the state level despite the recalcitrance of Congress to end federal prohibition.

As more eyes turn to 2022 legislative sessions, a report from NORML that was released on Monday details advocates’ progress on the cannabis front this year in more than 25 states, where over 50 pieces of marijuana reform legislation were enacted.

Most notably, legislatures and governors in five states enacted recreational legalization—a notable trend given that the reform has historically been decided by voters as ballot initiatives. But 2021 has also seen more modest policy changes related to medical cannabis, decriminalization and social equity.

“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release.

Of course, one of the primary objectives of reform advocates is to comprehensively end prohibition. To that end, the legislatures of Connecticut, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Virginia each legalized marijuana for adult use this year. (New Jersey’s action came months after voters approved a referendum on the issue during last November’s election.)

In Rhode Island, the Senate approved a marijuana legalization bill in June. While legislative leaders discussed holding a special session to send a final measure to the governor’s desk, it now appears more likely that the issue will be taken up again in 2022.

North Dakota’s House also passed a recreational legalization bill, but it was later rejected in the Senate.

Louisiana lawmakers, meanwhile, passed legislation this year that decriminalizes possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis.

With respect to expungements for prior marijuana convictions, reform measures meant to help provide people with relief were approved in Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico and Virginia, NORML reported.

As an example, the governor of Colorado signed a bill in May to double the marijuana possession limit for adults in the state—and he also directed state law enforcement to identify people with prior convictions for the new limit who he may be able to pardon.

Separately, Alabama’s governor signed legislation that same month to legalize medical cannabis in the state.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

At least 15 states took steps to expand existing medical marijuana programs. They range from California, where hospitals will now be required to permit medical cannabis use by certain patients, to Texas, where patients can now qualify for low-THC marijuana products if they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer.

As state markets have continued to evolve, some lawmakers have turned their attention to enhancing social equity in the industry. And to that end, five state legislatures advanced reform this year.

For example, Illinois passed a bill to create additional marijuana licensing lotteries to expand business opportunities. And in Michigan, the governor signed a bill this month that makes it so people with cannabis-related felony or misdemeanor convictions on their record are no longer disqualified from obtaining a medical cannabis business license.

NORML also documented other reform bills related to the business industry, driving/DUI policies, juvenile justice and more. One miscellaneous measure that was enacted in California, for example, makes it so non-intoxicating cannabinoids, including CBD, can be sold as dietary supplements and as ingredients in food and beverages.

“As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability,” NORML’s Armentano said. “These policies are popular among voters, regardless of political party.”

Activists and lawmakers have made clear that the cannabis reform momentum will continue through the new year.

On Monday, for instance, a Kentucky lawmaker announced that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session.

In the South Dakota legislature, a cannabis reform bill has been formally recommended by a leadership panel for the upcoming session. And activists will also continue collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative—though they hope to work with lawmakers to advance reform legislatively ahead of next year’s election.

The Indiana Democratic party is mounting a push for marijuana legalization and calling on state lawmakers to enact the reform in 2022.

Arkansas activists are also hoping to place marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.

Last month, Oklahoma activists filed a pair of 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize adult-use marijuana and remodel the state’s existing medical cannabis program.

In Nebraska, advocates unveiled the language of a pair of initiatives to legalize medical marijuana in the state last month.

This summer, New Hampshire lawmakers discussed a new strategy to legalize marijuana in the state that involves putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot for voters to decide on in 2022.

Wyoming activists, meanwhile, are working to collect signatures for 2022 ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize cannabis possession.

A Maryland House working group has been tasked with studying marijuana and preparing a legalization referendum that the speaker wants to put on next year’s ballot.

Just months ago, Ohio activists were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the state. And the campaign says it expects to have enough valid signatures by the end of this month.

Idaho advocates are also pursuing a 2022 cannabis legalization ballot initiative as well as a separate proposal focused on medical marijuana.

Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Kentucky Lawmaker Pre-Files Marijuana Legalization Bills For 2022 Session

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A Kentucky lawmaker announced on Monday that she is pre-filing bills to legalize possession, limited sales and home cultivation of marijuana in the state for the 2022 session, with endorsements from several leading advocacy groups.

Rep. Nima Kulkarni (D) is taking a dual-track approach to the reform, with one bill to have the legislature adopt the policy as a statutory measure and another to enact legalization through a constitutional amendment that would go before voters.

Generally speaking, the measures would accomplish the same central objective of ending prohibition, but Kulkarni said they’re meant to complement each other by giving lawmakers an opportunity to pass legalization in the short-term while allowing voters to constitutionally enact the reform as a “more permanent fix that gives cannabis use the constitutional protection it deserves.”

“I am sponsoring these bills for several reasons, any one of which should be enough for them to become law,” the sponsor said in a press release.

“First, current cannabis statutes have needlessly and tragically ruined many lives, especially people of color who have suffered because of unequal enforcement,” she said. “Second, thousands of citizens, from cancer patients to veterans suffering from PTSD, should have the right to use something that gives them the mental and physical relief they deserve without relying on stronger, potentially addictive medicine. Third, cannabis decriminalization would give the state a much-needed source of reliable revenue without raising current taxes a single cent.”

Kulkarni further noted that polls “have repeatedly shown a majority of Kentuckians backs decriminalization and allowing cannabis to be used responsibly by adults.”

Under one of the lawmaker’s pre-filed bills, a constitutional amendment would be placed on the ballot if three-fifths of the House and Senate approve it during next year’s legislative session. If passed by voters, adults 21 and older would be able to possess, purchase and sell up to one ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to five plants for personal use.

The measure would task the General Assembly with coming up with regulations on matters such as licensing and taxes.

The separate statutory proposal would similarly remove criminal penalties for low-level possession, cultivation and sale of cannabis. It would also amend state statute so that marijuana paraphernalia would no longer be criminalized and create a pathway for people to have their cannabis convictions expunged.

Neither measure creates a regulatory structure for commercial marijuana sales, something that would be subject to separate legislation.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

“Because of outdated and ill-enforced laws, thousands of Kentuckians have lost time and opportunities due to criminal convictions, and thousands more have suffered needlessly because Kentucky blocks cannabis’ medicinal use,” ACLU of Kentucky said. “It is past time for the commonwealth to join the 36 other states that have removed most if not all of these barriers, which is why we are proud to add our name to those supporting Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s legislation.”

While Kentucky is well-known for its hemp industry, broader reform has consistently stalled.

The Republican sponsor of a bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky said last month that he made multiple revisions to the legislation to scale it back and add restrictions to garner more support from colleagues—and he said he’s confident it would pass if legislative leaders had the “courage” to simply allow a vote on it.

Rep. Jason Nemes (R) filed a medical legalization bill that soundly passed the House last year but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation in January for the 2021 session but it did not advance this year. Now he’s working to build support for a new version for 2022.

Gov. Andy Beshear (D) is in favor of medical marijuana legalization and called on lawmakers to pass the reform during a State of the Commonwealth address in January.

Passing an adult-use marijuana legalization bill would presumably be a much larger challenge in the conservative legislature, but the proposal has the backing of several prominent groups.

Mike Conway, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Kentucky, said the pre-filed bills “would move Kentucky away from the harmful policies that have criminalized the use and possession of marijuana.”

“Criminal enforcement of marijuana possession has unnecessarily brought thousands of Kentuckians into the criminal justice system while diverting law enforcement resources away from public safety priorities such as violent crime reduction,” he said.

Matthew Bratcher, executive director for Kentucky NORML, said the group “commends Representative Kulkarni in her efforts to reform the cannabis possession laws in our commonwealth, and we encourage other legislators from both sides of the aisle to join her in making a difference in the lives of many of Kentuckians.”

“We’re at the precipice of the opening of the cannabis industry here in Kentucky,” C.J. Carter, Kentucky state director for Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said. “This is indeed a dangerous moment in time for Black and Brown people. There’s a new multi-billion dollar industry that will soon open on both the Federal and State level while simultaneously, people who look like me remain criminalized behind bars and are once again being left out of the conversation.”

“We now have the opportunity to write a different narrative in Kentucky that would benefit us first and foremost,” he said. “The State of Kentucky and its history as it relates to cannabis owes a tremendous debt to the Black Community and that starts with this legislation that is being introduced by Rep. Kulkarni.”

Read the text of the pre-filed Kentucky marijuana legalization bills below: 

Click to access kentucky-cannabis-bills.pdf

Florida Lawmaker Files Bill To Decriminalize All Currently Illicit Drugs

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CDC Gives Workplace Marijuana Policy Advice To Businesses That Employ Drivers

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is giving advice to businesses on how to develop marijuana policies that respect state legalization laws but mitigate the risk of impaired driving.

In a post published last week by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the agency said that there are inherent risks to driving while under the influence of THC, but the issue is nuanced due to distinct state policies and the fact that there’s currently no tool in widespread use to detect active impairment from cannabis.

To that end, it laid out “best practices” for employers that recognize that “marijuana’s specific contribution to crash risk is unclear because it can be detected in body fluids for days or even weeks after use.”

Employers should create cannabis policies that account “for current laws in each state where your company operates,” CDC said, adding that a “zero-tolerance policy for marijuana may not be possible, depending on your state’s laws.”

For example, New York’s Department of Labor recently updated its drug testing policies to widely block employers from screening for THC since marijuana was legalized in the state. It does carve out certain exceptions, however, including for workers contracted by the federal Department of Transportation.

CDC did argue that an ideal policy should at minimum prohibit workers from using cannabis on the job or showing up to work impaired.

It also recommended partnering with an attorney who can “review your policy and provide feedback.”

If drug testing is part of a business’s marijuana policy, employers should make sure that the conditions under which a worker might be tested are clear, that a trained medical professional is available to accurately interpret THC testing results and that drivers are adequately informed about the risks of consuming CBD products that might be mislabeled and contain excess THC levels that could be detectable in a drug test, CDC said.

Further, the agency recommends that employers provide “access to support for employees with drug problems, either through in-house programs or referrals to local resources” and also stay up-to-date on “the relevant state marijuana laws and any improved methods for determining impairment.”

“Despite some unanswered questions about marijuana’s role in crash risk, workers under the influence of marijuana do not have the skills needed to drive safely,” the post concludes. “Because marijuana use is on the rise for adults in the U.S., this substance needs to be addressed by all workplace motor vehicle safety programs.”

Experts and advocates have emphasized that evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.

A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.

Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”

At the state level, an attempt to provide protections for Pennsylvania medical marijuana patients from being charged with driving under the influence was derailed in the legislature last week, apparently due to pushback by the state police association.

Pennsylvania’s Lieutenant Governor Wants To Process As Many Marijuana Pardons As Possible Before Leaving Office

Image courtesy of blinkend from Pixabay.

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