Texas marijuana possession arrests drop 30% amid hemp legalization

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Marijuana possession arrests in the state of Texas dropped 30% in 2019 compared to the previous year, according to data recently released by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

Texas legalized hemp last year, forcing law enforcement officials to drop low-level marijuana cases across the state due to the crop being virtually indistinguishable from the psychoactive and illegal form of cannabis. 

In order to prosecute someone for marijuana possession, a test proving the seized plant contains a THC content above 0.3% would need to be carried out.

However, as most crime labs in Texas are unable to perform potency tests, prosecutors have been dumping cases involving the possession of small amounts of potential weed, which is punishable with up to 180 days in prison or a $2,000 fine. 

The data released by the DPS showed there were roughly 63,000 marijuana prosecutions in Texas in 2018. Last year, the number dropped to 45,000 as the new law legalizing hemp took effect. Meanwhile, cannabis manufacturing arrests fell from 2,700 to 1,900 during the same period. 

Back in July, the Austin Police Department effectively decriminalized cannabis possession due to the police’s inability to determine whether someone has been caught with marijuana or its non-psychoactive counterpart.

Exceptions will be made in the event “there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.” 

El Paso approved a similar measure last spring, opting to issue tickets to people caught in possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana instead of making an arrest. 

Commenting on news that marijuana arrests have been significantly declining, Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that Texas authorities have abandoned the traditional “Tough on Crime” mentality in favor of a “Smart on Crime” approach.

“Now it’s time to change state law and stop all arrests for marijuana possession in Texas,” she concluded. 

Prior to the passage of House Bill 447 in June of 1973, which reduced penalties for cannabis-related offenses in Texas,  the state was known for having the harshest drug laws in the U.S.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch, a total of 116 people in Texas were serving life sentences for drug possession in 2016, at least seven of which were caught with less than 4 grams of product at the time of their arrests.  

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