Why the Hemp Law Change Halted Charging of Low-Level Marijuana Crimes

In June of 2019, when hemp became legal in Texas, it changed the definition of marijuana. The updates to the law created a disturbance in the prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses. Before the new legislation went into effect, marijuana was defined as a substance deriving from the cannabis plant. Now, it is defined as cannabis that contains more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Legal hemp, which also comes from cannabis, is a substance that contains less than 0.3% THC.

Levels of THC Come into Play

When the new law took place, prosecutors realized that it could be challenging to pursue low-level cases, such as minor possession, because distinguishing between legal hemp and illegal marijuana would be difficult. In the past, if a person was arrested for having marijuana on them, crime labs could test the substance to determine whether or not it contained THC. They weren’t concerned with what amount of the psychoactive substance was in the collected evidence.

Yet, the new law requires knowing what amounts of THC are in a substance to accurately prosecute someone for a marijuana-related crime. Relying on current testing methods would mean that an innocent person could be charged, and possibly convicted, for having a legal product on them. If the prosecutor pursues a case with evidence showing that a person had a THC-containing substance, the defendant can counter by stating that it has THC, but it’s hemp, not marijuana.

High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Testing

Testing for THC levels requires specific scientific methods. There are several different ways to do this, the most common being High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC). This technique entails mixing the collected cannabis with a specific solution. The liquid is then funneled through high-pressure tubes that separate the molecules in the substance and channel them through to a detector.

Some of the molecules travel faster than others, so UV light is used to determine at what times they reach the detector. Analysts can determine the amount of THC based on this testing.

Many crime labs in Texas aren’t equipped to conduct THC level testing, such as HPLC, prompting prosecutors to drop marijuana cases or put them on hold. It could take up to a year to get facilities set up with the equipment (which costs between $300,000 and $500,000) needed to distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

Misunderstanding the Law

Although many prosecutors have halted cases, others have not. For instance, in El Paso, officials will continue to try cases despite the change in law. Governor Greg Abbot and other leaders have said that legalizing hemp did not also make marijuana lawful, and not pursuing these matters shows a misunderstanding of the law.

Speak with The Law Office of Rene A. Flores PLLC During a Free Consultation

If you have been charged with a drug crime, you could face jail or prison time and steep fines. That is why it is crucial to have a skilled attorney on your side to fight allegations. Our lawyer has extensive experience in the legal system and an in-depth understanding of the laws concerning your rights. We will fight to ensure you are not unjustly convicted because of changes in state legislation.

To discuss your case, call us at (956) 606-3606 or contact us online.