A new law legalizing hemp and hemp-derived products is not stopping County Attorney Ed Zielinski from prosecuting marijuana cases, he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325 into law June 10 and it went into effect immediately. Since then, there have been reports of prosecutors in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and in Austin who say they are temporarily suspending certain marijuana cases because of the new state law.
“I do not believe that the legislative changes … prevent prosecution or inhibits presentation of the marijuana cases for prosecution,” Zielinski said via an email interview with the Register this week. “My position is that I will continue to evaluate each case on its own merits and prosecute them based on that evaluation.”
The bill from State Rep. Tracy King, D-Batesville, did not decriminalize small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption, but it did legalize hemp and hemp-derived extracts, like CBD oil, as long as they contain no more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC. THC is a chemical compound that allows marijuana users to get high and traces of it are found in hemp, a cousin of the cannabis plant.
Hemp-based products that don’t contain THC, such as clothing and beauty products, were already legal in Texas.
“Since there have been no appellate courts interpreting the application of the changes to Texas Health and Safety Code §481.002(26) … to the prosecution of marijuana cases I will continue to prosecute those cases that merit prosecution,” Zielinski said.
He said he reviews all his cases, including drug possession charges, by verifying the elements of the offense are met, that the offense ultimately charged has an appropriate application to the behavior of the defendant and that the consequence of prosecution will be the defendant is properly punished for the offense committed.
Since Zielinski took office in 2013, the number of drug offenses on the County Court at Law docket has increased by 18 percentage points, he said. The cases accounted for 20% of the docket in 2013 but grew to 38% of the docket in 2018.
“I anticipate that drug-related cases will rise to 42% of the docket in 2019, based on the stats for the first six months of this year,” Zielinski said.
Last year, Zielinski said he filed 324 new possession of marijuana cases and had a backlog of 199 cases from previous years.
From January through Thursday, July 11, Zielinski said he had filed 160 new marijuana cases.
He said the court’s docket currently has 267 possession of marijuana cases, of which 193 are active and 74 have outstanding warrants.