Due to the passage of Texas’ new legalized hemp law, the state Department of Public Safety has instructed officers to no longer arrest individuals for any low-level misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
As of July 10th, DPS officers will issue only a simple citation for individuals who are found to be in possession of less than four ounces of marijuana, which is considered by state law to be a misdemeanor amount. According to the citation, the individual who receives it must then make a court appearance in order to answer to the criminal charges against them.
Additionally, anyone who is issued such a citation will still end up facing the same type of penalties in the event that they are convicted of the charges. These penalties are a fine of $4,000 and up to one year in jail.
According to an inter-office memo, “departmental personnel are expected to continue enforcing marijuana related offenses. However, effective immediately, personnel will cite and release for any misdemeanor amount of marijuana.”
The new and surprising change comes just one week after Governor Greg Abbott and other Republican leaders in Texas blasted prosecutors who have either put marijuana-related cases on hold or dropped them completely due to the newly-passed law legalizing hemp. According to the prosecutors, testing is needed in order to differentiate marijuana from hemp, and that testing is neither widely available or budget conscious. A further statement from DPS claims that their memo was issued in order to reinforce that the enforcement of marijuana should still continue even though local prosecutors are refusing to take cases with low level charges involving the substance:
“This internal memo was necessary in order to address reports that local prosecutors were interpreting the new statute differently, which was impacting the level of enforcement action law enforcement could take. Even in jurisdictions where the local prosecutor will not accept marijuana cases without a quantitative lab report, DPS will continue to enforce the law through available statutory means, including cite and release as an alternative to putting people in jail.”
Despite all of this, there remains some restrictions to the new directive. For instance, Texas law states that citations instead of arrests are only permitted if the alleged crime takes place within the same county in which the offender resides. If marijuana is discovered during a traffic stop outside of an offender’s county of residence and along a state highway, this can still result in the offender being arrested. Additionally, the DPS memo further states that regions in which they currently patrol first should consult with area prosecutors prior to implementing the new cite and release policy, as well as “follow each prosecutors’ direction regarding whether to cite or arrest.”
Governor Abbott’s office was contacted and asked for a comment in regards to the story; however, a spokesperson for the Governor did not immediately respond.
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