Williamson County to temporarily stop marijuana arrests

Williamson County has put new policies in place to deal with possession of marijuana cases under the state law that legalized hemp. 

That's because the hemp law defined the substance by the amount of THC it has before any Texas crime labs could test for content. 

“I don't have all the answers. At this point we're just trying to go through the weeds, little by little, to do the right thing,” said Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody.  

The right thing to do when it comes to weed cases, according to the sheriff, just changed. 

“I have to go based on where the prosecution's going and, if they're not going to take cases, then it puts law enforcement, at least the sheriff's office, in a position of whether we should be making arrests or not,” Chody said.  

Many Texas prosecutors are struggling with how to handle possession of marijuana cases now that legislators legalized the production and regulation of hemp. By defining hemp in the law as a part of the cannabis plant containing .3 percent or less of THC, district and county attorneys feel they must test a substance to prove it is illegal marijuana. Without a lab currently capable of doing that, several prosecutors have chosen to drop marijuana cases. 

Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs said his office will decline or dismiss marijuana cases until he has a date that lab tests for THC content are available. His office has already dismissed about 50 cases. That has forced Chody to make some new policy decisions. 

“Any marijuana, or suspected marijuana, until labs can be done, if they are chosen to be done, we will not be making on site arrests unless something further, probable cause, can be established at that time,” said Chody.  

Evidence will still be seized, according to the sheriff, and, once it can be tested, a warrant can be issued. 

The Texas DPS crime lab, which tests evidence for Williamson County, said it could be eight to 12 months before they have the equipment and procedures in place to test for THC content. 

“This is temporary until we get to that point, because, right now, there's some confusion. Not just from us, but from every level from the state down,” Chody said.  

Governor Greg Abbott said any confusion is a misunderstanding of the law. Last week he wrote a letter to prosecutors that reads, "Failing to enforce marijuana laws cannot be blamed on legislation that did not decriminalize marijuana in Texas." 

“So this is not about whether I think the governor's wrong or the county attorney's wrong. This is just a policy they've put in place of all these cases until this can be worked out,” said Chody. 

The sheriff said cases involving larger amounts of marijuana will be handled on a case by case basis. 

The law may also require K9 teams to stop training drug detection dogs to alert on marijuana, but Chody said that's still unclear.