Texas Accidentally Decriminalized Marijuana Due To A Poorly-Written Hemp Law

Police and prosecutors don't have the right tools to distinguish potent pot from industrial hemp.

a non-flowering cannabis plant
WeedPornDaily / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 Cropped and Resized)

Police and prosecutors don't have the right tools to distinguish potent pot from industrial hemp.

Texas appears to have accidentally decriminalized marijuana thanks to Lone Star state lawmakers failing to properly dot all of the i’s and cross all of the t’s in their industrial hemp law, GQ reports.

It seems that Texas lawmakers, in their zeal to make sure they were legalizing industrial hemp and not “marihuana,” as the word is written in HB 1325, wrote the law in such a way that prosecutors can’t prosecute people for violating it.

What’s The Difference Between Industrial Hemp And Marijuana?

There are three (maybe more, maybe less, depending on whom you ask) species of the cannabis plant: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and cannabis ruderalis, according to The Leaf Online. Indica and sativa will get you high, as both contain comparatively high levels of THC (5 percent or higher), the psychoactive ingredient that marijuana users are after. In other words, when someone says “marijuana” in the context of getting high, they’re referring to indica or sativa (or both). Ruderalis, also referred to as “hemp” or “industrial hemp,” has a much lower THC content (less than 1 percent). Long story short, you’d have to smoke a whole bale of it in order to get high.

Humans have been growing hemp for millennia, using it to make fibers, rope, paper, clothing, and other goods. However, for decades industrial hemp was outlawed in the U.S. because lawmakers didn’t differentiate between the different species in their zeal to outlaw marijuana.

Industrial hemp looking good! pic.twitter.com/PDIAUwsQYI

— Shawn (@shawn1182000) August 17, 2019

Texas Gets Too Hasty

Texas got on board with legalizing industrial hemp earlier this year. And in their bill to legalize the plant, the law’s writers were quite specific: hemp has a THC content of 0.3 percent or less. Anything with a THC content of 0.4 percent or greater is illegal marijuana.

The problem, however, is that Texas’ crime labs don’t have the type of precision scientific instruments necessary to determine if a suspect’s cannabis is illegal weed or perfectly legal industrial hemp. GQ writer Jay Willis writes that anyone caught with pot in Texas can simply say that they’re actually carrying perfectly legal hemp, and the state has no means of proving otherwise.

“Whoops,” writes Willis.

Trying To Right The Wrongs

Already, the Texas District & County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) has issued a memo to prosecutors basically telling them to wait things out on prosecuting pot charges, unless and until the state can come up with the right measuring equipment.

Willis writes that labs are working on getting that kind of equipment built and sent to Texas, but it could be 2020 before any such processes are available for use in the state.