By Jolie McCullough

Texas’ largest law enforcement agency is moving away from arresting people for low-level marijuana offenses. It’s the latest development in the chaos that has surrounded pot prosecution after state lawmakers legalized hemp this year. As of July 10, all Texas Department of Public Safety officers have been instructed to issue a citation for people with a misdemeanor amount of the suspected drug — less than 4 ounces in possession cases — when possible, according to an interoffice memo obtained by The Texas Tribune. The citation requires a person to appear in court and face their criminal charges.

Those issued a citation for misdemeanor charges still face the same penalties if convicted — up to a year in jail and fine of $4,000. “Departmental personnel are expected to continue enforcing marijuana related offenses,” the memo states. “However, effective immediately, personnel will cite and release for any misdemeanor amount of marijuana.”

The DPS policy change came about a week before Republican state leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, chastised prosecutors who have dropped marijuana cases or put them on hold because of the new law. Prosecutors have claimed they need new lab reports to differentiate hemp from marijuana. A DPS statement said Thursday that the agency's memo was sent to reinforce that marijuana enforcement should continue despite local prosecutors now refusing cases.

"This internal memo was necessary in order to address reports that local prosecutors were interpreting the new statute differently, which was impacting the level of enforcement action law enforcement could take," the statement read. "Even in jurisdictions where the local prosecutor will not accept marihuana cases without a quantitative lab report, DPS will continue to enforce the law through available statutory means, including cite and release as an alternative to putting people in jail."

A spokesperson for Abbott did not immediately respond to questions 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, House Bill 1325, and was signed into law last month. Prince clarified that HB 1325 does not decriminalize marijuana, writing, “Because marijuana and hemp come from the same plant, it is difficult to definitively distinguish the two without a laboratory analysis.”

That difficulty has led prosecutors across the state to drop hundreds of low-level marijuana cases and stop accepting new ones, since lab testing to differentiate between now-legal hemp and illegal marijuana is not currently available in government crime labs.

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