In a sort of classic example of unfunded mandates, the top dogs in state government have told the state’s district and county attorneys to keep enforcing the state’s anti-marijuana law, even though lawmakers have made it more difficult and expensive to do.
Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, and Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton – all Republicans – sent out a press release on July 18 to call attention to their letter mailed to local prosecutors to tell them to keep enforcing the law that makes marijuana possession a crime.
Several local prosecutors around the state – including Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and County Attorney David Escamilla, a few blocks down the street from the state capitol in Austin – said the passage of HB 1325 this spring legalizing the sale of hemp has raised the bar for proving marijuana possession cases.
That’s because the hemp legalization bill specifies that the product, which is a sister to the same plant as marijuana – cannabis – is defined as having no more than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabanol, or THC.
The plant with higher THC levels can be intoxicating, according to the law.
The problem for the DAs is they say there is currently little capability available for testing for the THC level to confirm what qualifies as pot and what doesn’t, and the DAs report that juries are unlikely to convict someone for pot possession without that proof.
As a result, the two Travis County prosecutors are dropping 93 marijuana possession cases, they said in a July 3 press release.
In the press statement, Moore said her office doesn’t have the capacity to test for THC concentration, and neither do labs run by the Austin Police Department or the Texas Department of Public Safety. She said developing the capability could take up to a year.
Doesn’t matter, said the July 18 press release about the letter that the Big Three, plus the AG, had sent out to the local prosecutors.
“Marijuana has not been decriminalized in Texas, and these actions demonstrate a misunderstanding of how HB 1325 works,” their letter said.
“The power to change the law is legislative and rests with the Texas Legislature under the Texas Constitution,” the Big Three Plus One lectured.
“Since HB 1325 did not repeal the marijuana laws of Texas, as Judicial Branch Members, you should continue to enforce those laws by ‘faithfully executing the duties of the office of the (District or County Attorney) of the State of Texas, and ... to the best of (your) ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this state.’”
Their letter, while indicating that the solution to the prosecutors’ problem is legislative, did not mention that the Legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until January of 2021, unless the governor calls a special session.
You can find other ways to prosecute marijuana cases than THC testing, including circumstantial evidence, the Big Three Plus One letter added.
Got that? We’re telling you to do your job and enforce the law, even though we’re not providing you the resources you need to do it.
Moore said she’d never planned to stop prosecuting marijuana cases in the long term.
“I have told law enforcement agencies that work with us, because we are talking about felonies, they should continue to enforce the law,” she said.
She said it would have helped if lawmakers had included some money for lab resources when they passed the bill.
Doesn’t matter. Do your job. Besides, the tests you say you need will probably become more easily available, and the cost will probably go down.
We, of course – The Big Three Plus One – have demonstrated to The People of Texas that we, By Golly, are doing our jobs, are tough on crime, and don’t plan to sit by while our citizens are besieged by pot possessors – and you won’t prosecute the offenders?
Got it? Do your job.
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Another Democrat who sought statewide office may toss hat in ring ... Former state Sen. Wendy Davis, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in 2014, announced Monday that she’s making another run for office.
But unlike Chris Bell, the 2006 Democratic nominee, who this year is seeking another statewide nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, Davis hopes to get her party’s nod in the 21stCongressional District, to take on freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy.
The 21st stretches from Austin to San Antonio, plus six Hill Country counties to the west.
Also vying to challenge Roy is Jennie Lou Leeder, now of Austin. The former Llano County Democratic Party Chairman lost a race in 2018 to Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway in the 11thDistrict, which stretches from Odessa to Llano.
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