The ongoing dilemma over lab testing has defined the rollout of Texas’ new hemp law. This month brought another development, with the state’s Department of Public Safety informing law enforcement that state labs will not conduct testing in misdemeanor marijuana cases. 

Lawmakers in Texas passed a bill last year permitting farmers in the state to cultivate hemp, and effectively removing it from the state’s list of controlled substances and legalizes cannabidiol, or CBD, as well as products made from hemp. The measure was signed into law last June  by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. 

But the new law immediately sparked confusion on the local level.  The district attorney in Tarrant County, Texas immediately dismissed 235 marijuana misdemeanors, saying she and her staff had no way determining whether individuals who had been charged had been carrying marijuana with over 0.3 percent THC, the state’s limit for hemp. 

The problem stemmed from the new law failing to allow for additional lab funding, and many police departments in the state lack the requisite technology to conduct those tests. Sharen Wilson, the Tarrant County district attorney, said last June that a “lab report in our estimation is now a requirement of the crime because it’s the only way you can tell legal from illegal.” Most of the dismissed cases, Wilson said at the time, were for possession of two ounces or less of marijuana.

Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said in a letter to law enforcement agencies that the legislature “added resources to the laboratory to help expedite the analysis of those felony cases, however, additional funding to address misdemeanor cases was not provided because the laboratory does not analyze misdemeanor drug cases.”

“Annually, there are more than 80,000 misdemeanor marijuana arrests made in Texas,” McCraw said. “DPS will not have the capacity to accept those misdemeanor cases.” 

McCraw said in the letter that the new THC testing methodology in the state labs will be finalized by the end of March, and that the lab service will require 60 days to be implemented. Then, DPS will begin the 845 plant materials already submitted by local law enforcement for testing.

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