Texas (Kinda, Sorta) Accidentally Decriminalized Weed. Now What?

How harshly you’re punished for pot possession depends on where you’re caught, even more so now that a new law legalizing hemp has sowed confusion.

Michael Barajas Aug 20, 2019, 2:35 pm CST

Texas lawmakers like to declare themselves leaders on criminal justice reform, but this session they mostly did nothing about it. During the 86th Texas Legislature, a barrage of misinformation from police groups killed bipartisan efforts to reform Texas’ marijuana laws, which remain some of the harshest in the country. Still, there’s a silver lining to lawmakers’ failed attempts at pot reform: They may have kinda, sorta, accidentally decriminalized it across large sections of the state.

That’s because when lawmakers legalized hemp this session, they unintentionally changed the legal definition of marijuana in a way that makes possession harder to prosecute. Under the new law, which went into effect in June, cannabis with less than 0.3 percent concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gets you high, is legal hemp, while anything above that threshold is illegal marijuana. Since crime labs in the state can’t currently determine THC concentrations at the minimum threshold, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association predicted that agencies across the state would have to purchase pricey new equipment to keep charging for pot possession. “Until then, there will be no easy way to determine whether the weed your officers seized is illegal marijuana,” the association wrote in a June bulletin to its members.

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