HOUSTON — Governor Greg Abbott sent every district and county attorney letters reminding them marijuana is still illegal and a new law demands enforcement on misdemeanor cases in Texas.
House Bill 1325, approved by the legislature and signed into law by Gov. Abbott, allows farmers to grow hemp as a crop and redefines marijuana. It is illegal to possess anything more than a .3 concentration level of THC.
However, some district attorneys refuse to accept misdemeanor charges because of problems with state lab testing.
Letters from Gov. Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Attorney General Ken Paxton reminded prosecutors they need to enforce the law as written.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg did not back down. Two weeks ago, she announced her office will not accept misdemeanor charges because the Department of Public Safety lab did not yet have equipment to adequately test THC concentration levels.
“Prosecutors have ethical duty to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt and laboratory confirmation in drug cases has long been required,” Ogg said in a statement Thursday. “When a person’s liberty is at stake, juries demand nothing less.”
An assistant prosecutor in Fort Bend County told KHOU 11 their office never said it would not prosecute such cases. They do believe the law makes it more difficult, though, the assistant said.
Of the 16,000 criminal cases filed by Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon’s office, 500 involved marijuana. The county uses a lab in Arlington able to test THC levels in seized drugs. Two cases went to trial.
“As long as it is illegal to possess marijuana we will prosecute,” Ligon’s office said in a statement.
Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady’s office told KHOU 11 the same. Roady sent county law enforcement officers a letter instructing them to continue to make misdemeanor marijuana drug arrests, seize drugs, and make a report. The DA plans to file charges once the state’s lab upgrades it’s testing ability, an office spokesman said.
Brazoria County spent $125,000 to buy their own testing equipment, according to District Attorney Jeri Yenne. The county has its own crime lab. One it gets accreditation, prosecutors plan to pounce on pending cases, Yenne said. They have at least 40 from the last three weeks.
Their lab will not be ready until next year, Yenne said.
In his letter, Gov. Abbott insisted that lab tests are simply one way to prove criminal cases. The other involves “circumstantial evidence,” his letter said.
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