Posted in In the News, Texas Laws on September 27, 2019
Texas has historically been one of the states most stringently against the legalization of marijuana. Neither recreational nor medical marijuana is legal in the state of Texas. Texas shares the federal government’s view of classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance with a high potential for abuse and no recognized medicinal values. As of July 10th, 2019, however, Texas lawmakers may have accidentally decriminalized marijuana with House Bill 1325 in an attempt to legalize the production of hemp.
What Is House Bill 1325?
House Bill (HB) 1325 is a piece of legislation relating to the production of industrial hemp and hemp-related products in Texas. Hemp comes from the cannabis plant but contains a small amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) compared to marijuana. It is a versatile crop that could bring in a great deal of money if the state were to legalize farming and processing hemp. It is the legalization of hemp state lawmakers intended with the passing of HB 1325, or the Hemp Farming Act.
HB 1325 includes language defining hemp as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including its seeds and derivatives, with a THC concentration of no more than 0.3%. The bill created a state hemp program to promote hemp cultivation and the commercial sale of related products that may help with injuries and illnesses. It authorized the farming and production of hemp by producers within the state’s hemp program. In essence, the bill decriminalized hemp in Texas. It may have also, however, created a new definition of marijuana.
Ambiguous Language Leads to Loopholes
It was not until after the Hemp Farming Act passed into law in Texas that crime labs noticed an unexpected issue: ambiguous language in the bill may have inadvertently decriminalized marijuana as well as hemp. While the bill did not directly legalize marijuana – it is still illegal in Texas – it may have made things more difficult for cannabis crime labs. According to a spokesperson from the District Attorney’s office, the bill essentially changed the definition of marijuana.
HB 1325 sets testing procedures in the hemp industry to make sure the products contain less than 0.3% THC. According to the bill, any cannabis product with 0.3% or less THC is hemp, while anything with more THC is marijuana. This new standard made a major change within state crime labs, including the Houston Forensic Science Center. Crime labs do not have equipment sophisticated enough to make this distinction when testing confiscated cannabis products. This has led to several counties tossing out marijuana cases.
Is Marijuana Legal in Texas?
No, marijuana is not legal in Texas. It is still against the law to grow, possess, distribute or consume marijuana for recreational or medical purposes in the state. The penalties for breaking Texas’ marijuana laws remain severe. Possession of two ounces or less is a misdemeanor, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. The maximum penalty for possessing more than 2,000 pounds of marijuana is life in prison. The passing of the Hemp Farming Act did not legalize marijuana, intentionally or unintentionally. What it did do was cause many counties to toss out marijuana criminal cases due to a loophole in the law that changed the definition of marijuana.
Tarrant County, for example, dismissed more than 200 marijuana-related criminal cases after the passing of HB 1325. With no statewide consensus as to how to proceed, other counties have continued to cite marijuana crimes. In light of this confusion, it is unclear how state lawmakers will proceed. There may be a delay in processing criminal marijuana cases as crime labs upgrade their THC-testing equipment, or else lawmakers may amend the Hemp Farming Bill to resolve the issue. Until then, some defendants in Texas benefitted from the change by having the courts dismiss their marijuana-related cases.