Texas Hemp: Turning Over a New Leaf

Ameyali Sanchez

Is marijuana legal in Texas? Many residents are asking after Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 on June 10, 2019. This bill legalized and regulated hemp while simultaneously creating a very specific definition that allows agriculture and CBD businesses to access new opportunities. But it also complicates prosecuting cannabis crimes. HB 1325 does not legalize weed; though it did create a loophole for cannabis-related offenses. 

Hemp is defined in HB 1325 as cannabis sativa with a THC content of no more than 0.3 percent. Though it is possible to smoke hemp, the minute level of THC does not produce a high. Hemp is harvested for industrial use, producing a wide variety of products, including soaps and clothes. The average level of THC in recreational cannabis today is closer to 10 percent and has been increasing for decades.[1] Though hemp and cannabis can easily be mistaken for one another, any cannabis plant containing more than 0.3 percent THC is no longer considered hemp and is illegal. 

           Soon, hemp products can originate from Texas as the legalization of hemp produces new opportunities for those in the agriculture business by allowing utilization of a new crop. Cannabidiol (CBD) is not new to Texas shelves, but HB 1325 now permits and regulates CBD oil and edible parts of the hemp plant. Prior to the bill’s passage, CBD oil was only legal if it did not contain any THC whatsoever. Though edible cannabis and CBD oils containing THC are now legal, they still do not produce any kind of psychoactive effects because of the extremely minute percentage of THC. 

Though HB 1325 authorized the production, manufacture, retail sale, and inspection of industrial hemp, it is still not technically legal to freely grow hemp in Texas. Persons looking to process and manufacture hemp must first obtain a license with respect to industrial or consumable purposes. Before these licenses are issued, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) must first submit a plan to the USDA and receive approval. Prior to the submission of this plan, the TDA was waiting on final rules from the USDA which were released mid-October 2019. Thus, the TDA anticipates that persons looking to produce and manufacture hemp will be able to apply for a license in 2020.[2] Along with requiring licenses, hemp grown with the intent of harvesting—likely for manufacture or business purposes—must first pass a series of lab tests and regulations before doing so.

As demonstrated, Texas has not made the production of hemp an easy process. Possession of hemp, however, is unregulated and acceptable.

Hundreds of misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases have been dropped recently because of the now-legal ability to possess hemp.[3] Because of the two plants’ identical characteristics, it is impossible to distinguish between hemp and marijuana without first proving a THC content of over .03 percent. Proof cannot be established without proper lab testing—a resource Texas currently lacks, according to opinions from forensic scientists and crime labs across the state.[4] Harris and Tarrant counties have together dismissed approximately 300 misdemeanor possession charges, and Harris county is refusing to accept charges without a lab test result. This is also the case for many of the most populated Texas counties, including Dallas, Bexar, and Denton Counties.[5] In a July 2019 letter, Governor Abbott reiterated the specific rules of HB 1325 relating to hemp transportation and marijuana crimes to Texas prosecutors. Abbott also stated that the bill does not absolve the complications involving misdemeanor cannabis possession.

The signing of HB 1325 into law in July 2019 has opened new doors for Texas agriculture and hemp business, but it has also brought legal complications involving possession of marijuana. Texas has turned over a new leaf with its legalization of hemp, but the story is just beginning.



[1] Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) 2003-2013, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (December 2015), available at https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/

default/files/2003_2013_TEDS_National/2003_2013_Treatment_Episode_Data_Set_National.pdf.

[2] Hemp Regulations, Texas Department of Agriculture (last updated December 2019), https://www.texasagriculture.gov/RegulatoryPrograms/Hemp.aspx

[3] Jolie McCullough, Hemp law has most big-city prosecutors in Texas stepping back from marijuana charges. But not in El Paso., The Texas Tribune (July 16, 2019), https://www.texas

tribune.org/2019/07/16/el-paso-marijuana-hemp-prosecution/.

[4] Jolie McCullough, How can Texas fix its marijuana problem after legalizing hemp? Forensic experts have a plan., The Texas Tribune (July 19, 2019), https://www.texastribune.

org/2019/07/19/texas-marijuana-hemp-testing-proposal/.

[5] Frank Heinz, Gov. Greg Abbott Urges Texas DAs Against Dropping Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession Cases, NBCDFW (July 18, 2019), https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/

health/Gov-Greg-Abbott-Urges-Texas-DAs-Against-Dropping-Misdemeanor-Marijuana-Possession-Cases-512910821.html.

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