As Texas hemp law goes into effect, marijuana prosecution turns tricky

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Rural Texas politics often are more conservative than in larger cities, especially Austin, but an Austin American-Statesman investigation has found that these days, one group of offenders is getting off easy in the countryside compared to their treatment in Central Texas urban areas.

The investigation showed that, in Travis County, suspects arrested in towns and cities for small amounts of marijuana usually face arrest or citation, while those arrested in unincorporated areas are usually turned loose.

Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, with penalties on conviction of up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. But a new Texas law making hemp and hemp-related products legal is causing confusion because hemp is difficult to distinguish from illegal marijuana without lab testing, the Statesman reported.

Some state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, have written to district and county attorneys telling them to prosecute all marijuana cases. However, the newspaper noted that local prosecutors must order costly lab tests to prove their cases and are more likely to lose future court battles.

“Law enforcement is stuck in the middle of this situation,” Jackson County Sheriff A.J. Louderback told the Statesman.

In Travis County, the Austin Police Department will continue to arrest suspects who possess small amounts of marijuana, but county prosecutors are telling officers they won’t accept cases unless they also receive a lab report confirming the substance is not hemp.

Austin Police Chief Brian Manley told the Statesman he doesn’t support not following the law.

“I believe this is the right decision for the Austin community in the interest of public safety,” he said. “I do not believe as the police chief in Austin that I would be making our city any safer by not enforcing the law.”

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