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El Paso, Texas to Require THC Testing for Cite and Release Cases to Rule Out Hemp

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People in El Paso, Texas may not be getting off as easy as they think if they qualify for “cite and release” in a cannabis case: the city says these cases may also require testing because authorities require evaluations of items suspected of having tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), according to a KTSM news report.

Additionally, the El Paso Police Department (EPPD) is requesting approximately $72,000 in additional funding to cover the costs associated with increased THC testing. The police department told El Paso City Council earlier this month that they needed funding for additional testing to provide authorities with a clear understanding of items suspected of having illegal amounts of THC.

A letter from the District Attorney’s (DA) office to the police from May also requested that lab results for cannabis cases also provide distinguishable proof between illegal substances and hemp. The state definitions of cannabis have changed since the legalization of hemp, and items containing more than 0.3 percent THC on a dry-weight basis are still illegal.

“This requirement was submitted in writing to EPPD via DA Yvonne Rosales [office],” reads an El Paso city statement. “The police department—having presented the case either through cite and release citation or regular arrest—has a duty to provide evidence as required by the District Attorney’s office to assist in case presentation and ultimately prosecution.”

The DA’s office confirmed that the only way to legally prosecute in cannabis cases is to have a lab test proving the substance has a concentration of 0.3 percent or greater THC. “The letter to EPPD indicated the need for a lab test result in order to prevail in trial proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance was in fact an illegal substance,” a statement from the DA’s office reads.

At this time, there isn’t a clear indication in either direction if the El Paso City Council will dive in further on whether or not El Paso police should pursue cases involving small amounts of cannabis. However, there is already a history of local representatives who oppose it.

The cite and release policy in Texas is a directive for law enforcement to issue citations, tickets, or warnings for certain low-level offenses, rather than making arrests. The idea was to help reduce the number of overall arrests, reduce racial disparities in policing and arrests, increase data transparency between law enforcement and the public and decrease the arrest-to-deportation pipeline.In the context of COVID-19, an arrest could also mean a higher chance of spreading infection. 

And, early reviews of the impact of the policy show that most cases involve teens and young adults. Data also shows that the majority of early, accepted cases were involving Hispanic people. In most of the studied cases, officers were initiating a traffic stop or arrest.

Individuals who were not offered to utilize the cite and release program were usually facing “other charges,” according to police. Some also specified reasons including being uncooperative, having outstanding warrants, declining the program, habitual offenders, narcotics cases, intoxication and not residing in El Paso.

The DA’s office says that Texas law enforcement have stopped using testing for small amounts of cannabis. 

“DPS for some time quit testing small amounts of marijuana, so without a test, the evidence to seek prosecution was lacking,” a statement from the DA’s office reads. “DPS continues to test large quantities of marijuana, so those cases continue to be prosecuted when the evidence, i.e. lab report, is received. DPS is overwhelmed with cases and EPPD has the ability to alleviate some of the work for testing, but needs additional funding for taking on the work.”

As recreational cannabis booms across the U.S., it brings another dilemma to El Paso and the state as a whole. New Mexico’s recent legalization of adult-use cannabis prompted a letter by a representative of District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ office to the police department addressing those recent changes: “Please keep in mind the changing formulation of products that are showing in El Paso via interstate transit.”

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