Late Friday night in April 2018, Donte Chaz Williams was driving from his home in southeast Houston to his girlfriend, who is just out of town. A block from her house, he made his way through a stop sign, drawing the attention of a deputy to the sheriff of Fort Bend.
The deputy pulled him over and said he smelled of pot. Williams said he had little in the car and, of course, the deputy found a small bag in the center console, according to police reports Williams and his lawyer. The deputy arrested Williams and booked him at the local jail for possession of 2 grams of marijuana.
Williams, 22, was sent on bail the next day, but the drug abuse case has been ongoing for more than a year as he and his lawyer negotiate for him to join a drug training program. He did not finish the class, so when he was summoned to a judge two weeks ago, he worried he would be returned to prison.
Instead, prosecutors dismissed the case, stating that they could no longer prove that the pot was indeed sweat.
"That's crazy," Williams recalled. "It actually blew my mind."
Williams thanked his lawyer. But it can also credit state lawmakers and federal lawmakers who, in a hurry to expand industrial hemp production in America, unknowingly make it difficult for law enforcement to prosecute people for possession of marijuana. Texas prosecutors dropped pot charges against Donte Chaz Williams when With the kind assistance of Donte Chazz Williams
With the passage of new laws to legalize cannabis, criminal labs around the country have come to an end in the last eight months. unable to prove that they are a green plant taken from someone's car is marijuana, not hemp. Marijuana looks and smells like hemp, but there is more THC, the chemical that makes people tall.
Without the technology for determining the level of THC in a plant, laboratories cannot provide scientific evidence for use in a vessel. Without this help, prosecutors have to send evidence to expensive private labs that can do tests or delay cases until local labs develop their own tests, a process that can take months.
Instead of dealing with excessive costs or lengthy delays, prosecutors in several states, including Texas, Florida and Ohio, completely drop low-level boxes or refuse to bring new ones. Police in these states are not sure if their age for searching the car ̵
There is no way to determine how many cases have been affected by the new laws, but they number in the hundreds, perhaps thousands of law enforcement officials say.
"This is a nationwide issue," says Duffy Stone, president of the National Association of District Attorneys and a prosecutor in South Carolina, where pending marijuana cases are piling up as crime labs to get equipment to conduct new tests. "This problem will exist in every state you talk to."
With the proliferation of efforts to decriminalize marijuana, these unforeseen consequences make life easier for smokers in America, especially in states that have not passed laws that have it. make it legal to own small amounts of weeds. Some observers have described cannabis laws as de facto decriminalization, although lawmakers have insisted that this was not the case.
The confusion surrounding hemp stems from the 2018 Farm Bill passed by Congress in December, which made hemp the legal crop to use in the production of textiles, fabrics, paper, food and health products manufactured with cannabidiol, non-toxicant extract known as CBD. To distinguish cannabis from marijuana, which remains illegal under federal law, Congress has designated cannabis to be less than 0.3 percent of THC. The farm bill left states to adopt their own laws for growing hemp; 47 countries have done so, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Most of these countries have adopted the 0.3 percent standard.
Crime laboratories were not prepared for the impact.
Prior to cannabis legalization, all laboratories usually had to do pot cases, relatively inexpensive and rapid tests were conducted to show if anything came from a cannabis plant. They had ways to test for THC, but they usually didn't need them.
Many will now have to purchase new testing equipment, hire more staff, train staff for new test methods, and obtain methods approved for use in court. Some say they are in weeks; others say they will not be able to perform the tests routinely until next year. Some laboratories also expect to increase their workload significantly. And this is only for plant-based marijuana cases, not edible or vaping oils. Texas lab officials estimate the total cost there could exceed $ 10 million. Private labs charge $ 200- $ 600 per test.
In Tennessee, the State Bureau of Investigation has asked prosecutors to be selective in cases of sweat they decide to prosecute and not provide evidence of malpractice cases until laboratories develop new test procedures, said David Rausch, director of the desk. In Ohio, Attorney General Dave Yost has announced a $ 50,000 fund to cover the cost of police sending evidence to private laboratories. Several Georgia counties have said they have stopped prosecuting marijuana abuse charges. In Florida, prosecutors in at least four court cases have told police they will not file marijuana cases without a lab test.
"If you want to have a cannabis industry, there's no way around this," said Phil Archer, the Attorney General at Florida's 18th Judicial Circuit. He said he has not filed any marijuana cases since the Florida hemp law goes into effect July 1. "I would say most schemes do the same."
Mitch Stone, president of the Florida Bar Association, said he used the new testing requirement to successfully challenge searches and arrests and received little discounts. "State attorneys do not want to be brought to court by defense attorneys to defend a case where they cannot prove that their decisions are legal," Stone says.
Peter Stutt, president of the Houston-based forensic science center in Texas, said his agency has hundreds of marijuana-level cases of crime waiting for tests that may not be available for months. Until then, a local prosecutor, Harris County District Attorney Kim Og, said he would not accept criminal charges for possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana, but would consider pursuing more serious cases.
"Everybody Struggles Here," Stout
Some law enforcement officials continue to handle marijuana cases through allegations of para-finals or other decisions. That's the path approved by the Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who accused prosecutors of misinterpreting the new cannabis law. In a letter to state district attorneys last month, Abbot said they did not need to test marijuana in any case and could instead charge the charges with someone who did not hold a certificate saying they had obtained a transportation license on hemp.
However, in Fort Bend County, District Attorney Brian Middleton claims prosecutors really need to test for all cases, even for violations of the cannabis certificate provision.
Middleton also stated that he had decided to dismiss some pending cases of marijuana in order to avoid prolonged delays. "In these circumstances, we have concluded that it is unjust and unethical to extend these particular cases further," Middleton said in a statement.
He could talk about Dont Chaz Williams.
By the time Texas cannabis law went into effect on June 10, Williams's case was more than a year delayed by routine issues: delaying court dates, slow evidence gathering, and Williams' attempts to enter the program , which allows defendants to drop their charges in exchange for taking a drug class. During that time, Williams says, he lost his job as a forklift driver and was unable to pay class fees.
He is considering holding a court date on August 6, as he fears not being sent back to prison. He figured he would eventually be sentenced to several months of probation.
Williams knew nothing of the confusion of cannabis law until he appeared in the courtroom and his lawyer Vic Wee handed him a copy of the prosecutor's request to release the charges.
"Mandatory laboratory tests are not available at this time," the prosecutor argued by the margin. (Although the new Cannabis Act does not specify whether it is retroactive, prosecutors in Fort Bend and other parts of Texas treat it as if it were.)
Prosecutors could refile the case once the tests become available, Middleton
But Williams said he was happy to have another chance.
"I feel really lucky," he said. "Now I have to do nothing but get a job."