by Kimberly Rubio, assistant editor
The Uvalde Police Department and Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office plan to no longer arrest people found in possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana due to House Bill 1385, which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products.
The bill, which was sponsored by State Rep.Tracy O. King of Uvalde, changed the definition of marijuana from certain parts of the cannabis plant to those parts that contain more than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The Texas Department of Public Safety crime labs are unable to determine if a substance contains more than 0.3 percent of THC.
“It is the worst bill they have ever had passed. They passed it without rules or regulations established and it has created a law enforcement nightmare,” said Uvalde County Sheriff Charles Mendeke.
“I agree with the sheriff. This bill is a big mess. We don’t have any laboratories we can send these narcotics to, other than private labs which cost $150 a pop,” said Uvalde Police Department Chief Daniel Rodriguez. “DPS is not equipped with machinery to test for THC levels.”
Mendeke said his deputies will be taking possession of suspected marijuana and filing at large with county attorney John Dodson, who handles misdemeanor cases.
“It will be up to the county attorney to accept,” Mendeke said, noting that as of last Tuesday Dodson said he had roughly 400 cases involving individuals caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana.
“Multiply that by $150, and we have to pay for that if we go through a private company,” Mendeke said.
“However, anything above 4 ounces will still result in a felony arrest,” Mendeke said.
As for the Uvalde Police Department, Rodriguez said his department is working to update ticket writers as his patrol officers will be issuing citations for individuals caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana.
“We will be citing and releasing,” Rodriguez said of individuals caught with less than 4 ounces of suspected marijuana. “We will seize whatever they have and keep it in our evidence room until lab results are received or until final disposition of the case. It is a headache.”
Daniel Kindred, 38th Judicial District Attorney, who only prosecutes cases involving felony marijuana possession, said “There will be some growing pains, but at the end of the day it is not a show stopper.”
Uvalde County attorney John Dodson did not comment on the matter.
This bill ensures that all Texas farmers will be able to grow hemp and produce hemp products, in compliance with the federal 2018 Farm Bill.
“Hemp has moved a little bit further in the process each session, and the members had a lot more education on what industrial hemp is – and what it is not – this session,” King said. “Hemp will open doors to new industries, and this is a major piece of legislation for our Texas farming community.”
Under this bill, a person must obtain a license through the Texas Department of Agriculture to grow hemp. There will be additional testing and oversight not included in the U.S. Farm Bill. The crop, subject to random inspections and testing, must also be tested within 20 days of harvest. Texas Department of State Health Services will have oversight of all consumables.
This bill has the support of Texas Farm Bureau, and many other interested growers, processors, retailers, and consumers.
LoneStar Agriculture is constructing an indoor 500-by-100-foot hops and hemp growing facility on a 20-acre farm in Uvalde.
Hops are the flowers of the hop plant, which are used in the production of beer. Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant species that can be refined into commercial items including paper, clothing, and paint.
Industrial hemp has lower concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, but higher concentrations of cannabidiol, or CBD, which decreases its psychoactive effects.
LoneStar Agriculture representatives include president Matt Atwood, vice president of sales and operations Jason Hirsch and medical director Jude Espinoza.
The trio is leasing city-owned Kirk Farm, located west of the Uvalde County Fairplex on U.S. Highway 90 West.
Site work began in December of last year, while construction of growing tunnels began in April. Work was delayed due to funding.
“There was a pause in funding, but we have three investors we are speaking to and they can get us back on track to finish our tunnels,” Atwood said, noting that the first hops harvest is scheduled to take place next September.
“This bill has opened up the door for us to do hemp seed production in our tunnels over the winter,” Atwood said. “Our goal is to have hemp seed ready to sell in 2020.”
If all goes as planned, Atwood said the company would be the first to sell hemp seed in the state of Texas.
“If not, Texas farmers will have to go out of state to purchase hemp seed, which means dollars go outside the state and we lose tax revenue,” Atwood said. Atwood said hops is still the company’s priority, as the plant is in high demand.
“Hops plant is still our priority because that market hasn’t changed. The beer market still needs hops. It is four times more expensive than CBD right now, so that makes it four times as profitable,” Atwood said.
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