FORT BEND COUNTY (Covering Katy News) – All pending misdemeanor marijuana charges will be dismissed in Fort Bend County following the passage of HB 1325 by the Texas Legislature, but the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office will still have the chance to prosecute within the two-year statute of limitation.
HB 1325 makes the production of and possession of hemp legal. Though both hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, legally hemp is defined as having less than .3 percent THC. Anything above that is considered marijuana, which is still illegal. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that produces the feeling of being “high.”
According to the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office, neither the county nor the state currently has the ability to determine the level of THC.
“The problem isn’t with the law and the state’s desire to legalize agricultural hemp production,” said Wesley Wittig with the Fort Bend County District Attorney’s Office. “The issue is that the law was enacted immediately and without any of the infrastructure in place to regulate the legal production of hemp, nor the ability of the state’s own scientific labs to distinguish between what’s legal and what’s not. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of the law renders prosecution of marijuana offenses impossible until the infrastructure and scientific laboratories are capable of performing the analysis necessary to distinguish hemp from marijuana.”
Pending misdemeanor charges will be dismissed with the opportunity for prosecution if, and when, an acceptable lab test becomes available. The DA’s office will continue to offer the marijuana diversion program which qualifies successful participants’ charges for expunction.
“We support local law enforcement and have reached out to our law enforcement partners with that message,” said Wittig. “The legal standard to initiate a criminal investigation and make arrests has not changed; nevertheless, we will not be able to prosecute marijuana violations without a lab test quantifying the concentration of the once prohibited, and now regulated substance in hemp and marijuana – THC.”
Felony charges will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and will be prioritized for possible testing by private labs and prosecution, with the burden of cost likely falling on the law enforcement agency.
“Public safety is our top priority,” stated District Attorney Brian Middleton. “We will not sit idly by while drugs infiltrate our schools. And drug runners will not go free if they are moving loads of marijuana through our county. It will just take extraordinary resources to prosecute those cases until the infrastructure and laboratory testing is readily available. We are actively researching a solution and once we find one that is reliable and affordable, it will be business as usual.”