Pot is still a crime, Texas governor tells district attorneys

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas' top leaders are calling out district and county attorneys who dismissed marijuana possession cases or said their offices would not prosecute those misdemeanor charges without a lab test.

"Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas," Abbott said in a letter issued Tuesday.

RELATED: New hemp law means no criminal charges for some pot possession cases, Harris County DA says

The letter was also signed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Attorney General Ken Paxton.

DOCUMENTS: READ THE GOVERNOR'S LETTER


Earlier this month, district attorneys in both Harris and Fort Bend counties said they would not accept any misdemeanor marijuana possession cases without laboratory tests showing an illegal level of THC, the chemical that produces a high.

The move came after House Bill 1325, allowing farmers to grow hemp as a crop, was signed into Texas law. The new definition of hemp also changes the definition of marijuana, creating a THC limit to tell the difference between legal hemp and illegal marijuana.

In a letter to attorneys, Texas leaders said dismissing or failing to prosecute cases demonstrates a misunderstanding of how the law works.

"A person claiming to transport hemp must have a certificate. Failure to have the required certificate while transporting hemp is a separate crime," the letter says. "Lab tests are not required in every case and are more affordable than initial reporting indicated. Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas."

The Harris County District Attorney's Office said Tuesday that although the legislature makes the law, it's up to the courts to interpret them.

"Prosecutors have an ethical duty to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and laboratory confirmation in drug cases has long been required," District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. "When a person's liberty is at stake, juries demand nothing less."

A spokesperson for the Houston Forensic Science Center says it is "still unable to provide a lab result that states definitively if a substance is marijuana based on the new legal definition in HB 1325."

"We are working on finding a method that will do this and believe we have found a three-step process that could work on plant materials only," the statement says. "That said, we are months away from getting it validated and ready for use on casework. We are confident the governor would not want laboratories to take shortcuts or provide less than reliable results."

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