Editorial: Hemp or pot; devil is in details

The recent enactment of a bill legalizing hemp and hemp-derived products has underscored the old adage about the devil being in the details. The purpose of House Bill 1325, which was sponsored by state Rep. Tracy O. King of Uvalde, was to open the door for Texas farmers to produce a new cash crop. We endorsed King’s legislation and continue to do so, despite a small hiccup in the law. It seems that the new measure 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. Hemp, on the other hand, is defined as a cannabis plant that cannot contain more than 0.3 percent THC.

Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies across the state are now complaining that since the Texas Department of Public Safety crime labs are unable to determine if a substance contains more than 0.3 percent of THC, people charged with possession of under 4 ounces of marijuana may insist the substance in actually hemp and avoid prosecution. And while we understand the frustration of law enforcement, we can also think of worse things. Especially when you consider that many enforcement agencies have for some time elected to issue citations rather than arrest people in possession of under 4 ounces of pot. It makes one wonder whether the big city prosecutors were ever interested in prosecuting those small-time cases to begin with.

There was also a bipartisan push in the last legislative session to decriminalize the possession of small quantities of marijuana. It seems like a matter of time – probably shorter than longer – before that comes to pass. When it does, it will free law enforcement to focus more resources on criminals whose offenses are far more pernicious to society than the recreational consumption of marijuana.

In the meantime, 38th Judicial District Attorney Daniel Kindred, who only prosecutes cases involving felony marijuana possession, offered that the new law will cause “growing pains … but at the end of the day it is not a show stopper.”

In other words, the DPS crime labs will acquire the resources to test for small amounts of THC and whatever backlog of cases has accumulated will eventually be disposed of – one way or the other. And with any luck, farmers in Uvalde County will one day get to harvest enough hemp to have made representative King’s bill worthwhile. We believe that day will come.



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