DPS officers told not to arrest in low-level pot instances just after new hemp law

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AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Tribune) Texas’ biggest law enforcement agency is moving away from arresting folks for low-level marijuana offenses. It is the most recent improvement in the chaos that has surrounded pot prosecution just after state lawmakers legalized hemp this year.

As of July 10, all Texas Division of Public Security officers have been instructed to concern a citation for folks with a misdemeanor quantity of the suspected drug — significantly less than four ounces in possession instances — when probable, according to an interoffice memo obtained by The Texas Tribune. The citation demands a particular person to seem in court and face their criminal charges.

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

“Departmental personnel are anticipated to continue enforcing marijuana associated offenses,” the memo states. “However, helpful right away, personnel will cite and release for any misdemeanor quantity of marijuana.”

The DPS policy transform came about a week prior to Republican state leaders, like Gov. Greg Abbott, chastised prosecutors who have dropped marijuana instances or place them on hold simply because of the new law. Prosecutors have claimed they have to have new lab reports to differentiate hemp from marijuana. A DPS statement stated Thursday that the agency’s memo was sent to reinforce that marijuana enforcement should really continue regardless of neighborhood prosecutors now refusing instances.

“This internal memo was needed in order to address reports that neighborhood prosecutors have been interpreting the new statute differently, which was impacting the level of enforcement action law enforcement could take,” the statement study. “Even in jurisdictions exactly where the neighborhood prosecutor will not accept marihuana instances with out a quantitative lab report, DPS will continue to enforce the law by way of offered statutory signifies, like cite and release as an option to placing folks in jail.”

A spokesperson for Abbott did not right away 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, Home 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 similar plant, it is tough to definitively distinguish the two with out a laboratory evaluation.”

That difficulty has led prosecutors across the state to drop hundreds of low-level marijuana instances and quit accepting new ones, considering the fact that lab testing to differentiate in between now-legal hemp and illegal marijuana is not at the moment offered in government crime labs.

But though prosecutors have stated the lack of testing knocks down their capacity to prove one thing is marijuana beyond a affordable doubt and safe a guilty verdict, the DPS memo stated that officers can nonetheless locate probable result in — the legal burden required to charge somebody 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 however began, generating it “unlikely that any substance encountered now is hemp.”

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

The very first two substances that came back with test benefits in Tarrant County contained 13% and 15% THC — generating 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 substantially the new policy will effect marijuana prosecutions statewide. DPS did not respond to concerns about how frequently its officers arrested folks on misdemeanor marijuana offenses prior to the law transform. The final annual security report on the agency’s site, from 2016, says highway patrol troopers performed about 65,000 criminal arrests — with no indication of how numerous have been for marijuana or any other drug. In all of Texas in 2016, law enforcement officers arrested about 86,000 folks on misdemeanor marijuana charges, according to DPS statistics provided to price range officials this year.

right here are also restrictions to the policy directive. Below Texas law, citations in lieu of arrest are only permitted if the suspected crime occurs in the similar county exactly where the particular person lives. Marijuana identified in the course of site visitors stops outdoors of a suspect’s dwelling county along Texas highways, exactly where DPS troopers frequently patrol, would nonetheless outcome in arrests.

And possibly most restrictive, the memo says DPS regions should really very first seek advice from with neighborhood prosecutors prior to implementing the new policy of cite and release and “follow every single prosecutors’ path concerning no matter whether to cite or arrest.”

DPS stated in its statement that prior to the hemp law, DPS was arresting and booking folks on marijuana possession instances in most counties, and “we will continue to do just that in jurisdictions exactly where prosecutors are accepting instances with out a quantitative lab report.”

A increasing quantity of law enforcement agencies have cite-and-release policies for low-level charges. Some counties also present defendants a diversion system to retain their records clean and retain them out of jail. These forms of policies exist in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Nueces counties. They rely on a court method in spot to accept these instances.

“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 method set up, there’s no way for any law enforcement in that jurisdiction to do that.”

Most counties do not have that method, potentially stopping DPS cite-and-release practices in biggest components of Texas. Gay did not have facts on how frequently folks in Austin cited for misdemeanor offenses failed to show up to their court dates, but he stated police are arresting folks substantially significantly less. From the very first 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 right away respond to concerns about cite and release.



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