Opinion: Top officials attempt to clarify new hemp law for prosecutors

by | Jul 25, 2019 | Opinion

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Some district and county attorneys reportedly have begun to dismiss misdemeanor marijuana possession cases following the Texas Legislature’s passage of House Bill 1325, a law creating a legal path for the cultivation and marketing of hemp and hemp products.

Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Attorney General Ken Paxton on July 18 sent a letter informing prosecutors that the Texas law, which takes effect Sept. 1, adopts the definition that differentiates between hemp and marijuana in the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress last year.

The farm bill, which delegates authority over the regulation, production and sale of hemp to the states, differentiates hemp from marijuana by setting a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) threshold concentration of 0.3 percent for hemp and anything above 0.3 percent for marijuana.

HB 1325 directs the Texas Department of Agriculture to pass rules requiring hemp producers to be state-licensed and to test their products to ensure 0.3 percent or less THC concentration.

The Texas law also requires a shipping certificate that confirms the product in transport is legally compliant hemp. Failure to have the required certificate during transport is a misdemeanor.

Some counties reportedly have raised an issue over the cost of lab testing that must be conducted on hemp to determine if seized samples are legally compliant or not. To address that issue, Abbott, Patrick, Bonnen and Paxton wrote that prosecutors could use “circumstantial evidence” and, “As more companies enter the testing marketplace, the costs of the tests will certainly decline.”

Economy adds jobs in June
The Texas economy added 45,000 seasonally adjusted non-farm jobs, the Texas Workforce Commission announced in a July 19 news release.

Also, the unemployment rate fell to 3.4 percent in June, the lowest rate recorded since 1976, when the state started tracking the unemployment rate. The previous low unemployment rate of 3.5 percent was recorded in May.

“June’s unemployment rate is a historic win for employers and workers across the state,” said TWC Chair and Commissioner Representing Employers Ruth R. Hughs. “It is a reflection of our excellent businesses, skilled workforce and the hard work of every Texan.”

The Trade, Transportation and Utilities industry led job growth in June, adding 10,500 jobs. Leisure and Hospitality was second, adding 10,000 jobs.

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area recorded the lowest unemployment rate among Texas MSAs in June with a non-seasonally adjusted rate of 2.1 percent, followed by the Amarillo, Austin-Round Rock and Odessa MSAs, each of which recorded a rate of 2.7 to tie for second place.

UT ups tuition assistance
The University of Texas System Board of Regents on July 16 voted unanimously to establish a $160 million endowment from a distribution of the state’s Permanent University Fund that will generate money for financial assistance beginning in fall 2020.

“Recognizing both the need for improved access to higher education and the high value of a UT Austin degree, we are dedicating a distribution from the Permanent University Fund to establish an endowment that will directly benefit students and make their degrees more affordable,” UT Regents Chair Kevin Eltife said after the vote. “This will benefit students of our great state for years to come.”

The new endowment will be used to expand UT Austin’s Texas Advance Commitment program for in-state undergraduate students to:

—Completely cover tuition and fees for students from families that earn up to $65,000 a year who have financial need, and,

—Provide some assured tuition support to students from families with incomes of up to $125,000 who have financial need.

AG intervenes in lawsuit
Attorney General Paxton on July 19 announced his intervention in a lawsuit filed by a dozen business organizations against the city of San Antonio to strike down the city’s paid sick leave ordinance.

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect Aug. 1. In court papers filed in a Bexar County state district court, Paxton explained that the state constitution gives the Legislature the authority to set the minimum amount of compensation established for workers, including the minimum amount of paid time off.

“The Legislature established the minimum amount of compensation for workers, and the Texas Constitution prohibits local municipalities from ignoring the Legislature’s decision,” Paxton wrote.

Disaster declaration granted
President Trump on July 17 granted Gov. Abbott’s July 10 request for “Individual Assistance” for those in severe weather- and flood-stricken Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties in the Rio Grande Valley.

Individual Assistance provides up to $34,000 per household for damages.

By Ed Sterling,the member services director for the Texas Press Association. His column is a weekly aggregation of news about the state’s government.

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