Austin Judicial Committee meets to discuss THC testing and enforcement

Graysen Golter

The Austin Judicial Committee met with public testifiers Tuesday to discuss improving THC testing after the Texas Legislature legalized hemp in June with House Bill 1325.

HB 1325 differentiates between hemp and marijuana based on the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol each one contains. The committee met to address the difficulty of prosecuting marijuana offenses now that hemp, but not marijuana, is legal in Texas.

During the meeting, Austin citizens and representatives from local organizations gave testimonies describing how the city should enforce marijuana laws. County officials previously dismissed 93 marijuana-related charges due to a lack of necessary testing equipment for THC.

Troy Gay, Austin Police Department chief of staff, said the city must invest in testing equipment that will allow police officers to differentiate marijuana from hemp. 

Emily Gerrick, a senior staff attorney from the Texas Fair Defense Project, said marijuana laws in Texas are completely unenforceable due to the fact that there is only one lab in the state that can properly test for the difference in THC levels between hemp and marijuana. 

"Once we understand the time and the cost of testing, APD and the county will be in a better position to make decisions regarding the future of enforcement action," Gay said.

Gay said the lack of law enforcement in places around Austin will lead to a boost in the local marijuana market and an increase in violent offenses, such as murders involving drug deals.

Gerrick said despite the inability to enforce the laws properly, APD officers are still citing and arresting people. She said this disproportionately affects people of color in Travis County, particularly African Americans, who are more likely to be jailed than their white counterparts for possession of marijuana.

"It's just a tremendous waste of resources, especially given that we have such a serious backlog for serious crimes," Gerrick said."(The)Austin Police Department should stop citing and arresting people …  for possession of marijuana, especially given that these cases are not currently being accepted (by the district attorney)."

Austin resident Annette Price said she was against allocating resources for THC testing because of the impacts of jail time due to marijuana laws, such as the loss of access to employment, housing, public benefits and childcare.

"When a person is arrested, their entire life stops," Price said. "Now, we want to risk some funding that will be wasted on some testing. What are we saying to the community, and how are we really allocating our money that best serves our community?"

Bratzzo Banich, the president of Texas Horns for Cannabis, said Texas campuses should engage in an educational effort to dispel myths about the marijuana market instead of continuing state enforcement laws. 

"In reality, there's more to the industry than just consumption," said Banich, a human development and family sciences senior. "It can create opportunities in the long run. There are people creating companies (and) doing work outside of Texas that is progressing society. I feel like Texas is kind of being left behind."