Texas DPS officers told to cease marijuana arrests soon after new hemp law

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Texas’ biggest law enforcement agency is moving away from arresting people today for low-level marijuana offenses. It is the newest improvement in the chaos that has surrounded pot prosecution soon after state lawmakers legalized hemp this year.

As of July 10, all Texas Division of Public Security officers have been instructed not to arrest people today with a misdemeanor quantity of the suspected drug — much less than four ounces in possession circumstances — if doable, according to an interoffice memo obtained by The Texas Tribune. Rather, they would concern a citation requiring a particular person to seem in court and face their criminal charges.

These issued a citation for misdemeanor charges nonetheless face the very same penalties if convicted — up to a year in jail and fine of $four,000.

“Departmental personnel are anticipated to continue enforcing marijuana connected offenses,” the memo states. “However, efficient quickly, personnel will cite and release for any misdemeanor quantity of marijuana.”

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The DPS policy transform came about a week ahead of Republican state leaders chastised prosecutors who have dropped marijuana circumstances or place them on hold simply because of the new law. A spokesperson for Abbott did not quickly respond to concerns for this story.

The memo by Randall Prince, deputy director of law enforcement operations at DPS, was sent out to guide enforcement practices in light of the new hemp bill that passed the Texas Legislature, Property Bill 1325, and was signed into law final month. Prince clarified that HB 1325 does not decriminalize marijuana, writing, “Because marijuana and hemp come from the very same plant, it is challenging to definitively distinguish the two devoid of a laboratory evaluation.”

That difficulty has led prosecutors across the state to drop hundreds of low-level marijuana circumstances and cease accepting new ones, considering the fact that lab testing to differentiate involving now-legal hemp and illegal marijuana is not presently accessible in government crime labs.

But whilst prosecutors have stated the lack of testing knocks down their capacity to prove a thing is marijuana beyond a affordable doubt and safe a guilty verdict, the DPS memo stated that officers can nonetheless discover probable result in — the legal burden necessary to charge an individual with a crime. Prince stated the possibility that a substance is hemp, not pot, does not outweigh the burden. He added that hemp production in Texas hasn’t but began, producing it “unlikely that any substance encountered now is hemp.”

Nonetheless, in Tarrant County, law enforcement has sent some pending felony circumstances to a private lab that can differentiate involving hemp and marijuana. The distinction is marked by the level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, in a cannabis substance. THC is the component of cannabis that gets you higher. If it includes much less than .three% of THC, it is legal hemp otherwise, it is illegal marijuana.

The 1st two substances that came back with test final results in Tarrant County contained 13% and 15% THC — producing them marijuana, according to a spokesperson for the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Workplace. The third substance in a marijuana case had .two% THC — which is legal hemp.

It is nonetheless unclear how significantly the new policy will effect marijuana prosecutions statewide. DPS did not respond to concerns about the memo or how frequently its officers arrested people today on misdemeanor marijuana offenses ahead of the law transform. The final annual security report on the agency’s internet site, from 2016, says highway patrol troopers carried out about 65,000 criminal arrests — with no indication of how a lot of have been for marijuana or any other drug. In all of Texas in 2016, law enforcement officers arrested about 86,000 people today on misdemeanor marijuana charges, according to DPS statistics offered to price range officials this year.

There are also restrictions to the policy directive. Below Texas law, citations in lieu of arrest are only permitted if the suspected crime takes place in the very same county exactly where the particular person lives. Marijuana identified in the course of targeted traffic stops outdoors of a suspect’s property county along Texas highways, exactly where DPS troopers frequently patrol, would nonetheless outcome in arrests.

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And maybe most restrictive, the memo says DPS regions must 1st seek the advice of with nearby prosecutors ahead of implementing the new policy of cite and release and “follow each and every prosecutors’ path relating to no matter whether to cite or arrest.”

A increasing quantity of law enforcement agencies have cite-and-release policies for low-level charges. On the list are departments in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Nueces counties. Some counties also offer you defendants a diversion system to hold their records clean and hold them out of jail. But law enforcement agencies that employ cite-and-release policies have a court technique in spot to accept these circumstances.

“It’s a collaborative work,” stated Troy Gay, Austin Police Department’s chief of employees. “If a court does not have a cite-and-release procedure set up, there’s no way for any law enforcement in that jurisdiction to do that.”

Most counties do not have that procedure, potentially stopping DPS cite-and-release practices in biggest components of Texas. Gay did not have data on how frequently people today in Austin cited for misdemeanor offenses failed to show up to their court dates, but he stated police are arresting people today significantly much less. From the 1st fiscal quarter of 2018 to 2019, the arrest price for cite-and-release eligible offenses dropped 59%, he stated. The Travis County lawyer, who handles misdemeanor prosecution, did not quickly respond to concerns about cite and release.

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