HAYS COUNTY — When HB 1325 was signed into law last month, there was confusion that marijuana was now legal in Texas. HB 1325 allows for farmers in Texas to grow hemp.

The confusion for such is understandable since the chemical ingredient (THC) found in marijuana can be found in hemp. The bottom line: hemp is not the same as marijuana (thought the two are derived from the same strain of plant.)

Still, the way to distinguish the two requires testing that is not cheap. That’s arguably the biggest reason many District Attorneys across Texas announced they will stop pursuing low-level marijuana possessions drug charges citing the difficulties in distinguishing between hemp and marijuana.

However, Wes Mau, the DA in Hays County, one of the fastest growing counties in the country, will keep things the same and still go after marijuana possession cases. 

“The legislator did not legalize marijuana. The law against the possession of marijuana is what it has been. So I am telling our law enforcement agencies to continue to enforce that law,” Mau said to KXAN. 

In a press release, Mau stated that, “These regulations include new offenses and penalties for handling hemp in violation of the new law. These new offenses include transportation of hemp without proper documentation or failing to provide that documentation upon request of a law enforcement officer. If facts justifying prosecution under the new statute arise, the HCDA will prosecute those cases, as well.”

The decision has drawn the ire of Faylita Hicks of the Public Defenders Alliance, a criminal reform advocacy group, and of Mano Amiga, an immigrant rights advocacy group. 

“One of the number one reasons that people are arrested for in hays county is for low-level marijuana possessions – and one of the biggest problems with Hays County jails is overpopulation. It makes sense the we make move to save the county money. It’s very clear that historically that the ones who are being put in incarcerations are people of color and people from low income backgrounds – especially when it comes to marijuana possessions,” Hicks said. 

According to data from DPS, the highest number of arrests in Hays County stem from possession offenses. 

“Maybe cite and release is an actual solution-based answer to this problem. The fact is…we all care about a community and we all care about saving money for our tax payers and cite and release makes sense,” added Hicks. 

HB 1325 gained considerable bipartisan support in the legislative session. 

“The hemp industry is rapidly growing and we need to ensure our farmers are able to participate. We hope this agricultural commodity will help boost rural communities now that there is a new viable crop option for our farmers,” stated Sen. Charles Perry, R- Lubbock. 

The Texas Farm Bureau echoed these sentiments: “The Texas Farm Bureau is very pleased with the passage and signing of the hemp bill,” Gene Hall, director of communications, said. “Hemp is a crop that should grow well in Texas and has multiple uses. It is already grown in more than 40 states. This will give Texas farmers and ranchers another crop option. This is especially important now, with a struggling farm economy.”