EL PASO, Texas -- The El Paso Police Department is looking to ask City Council to raise its budget by $72,000 next year to allow the department to test marijuana cases at a lab.
"Marijuana and hemp are very much so identical one of the only characteristics that differs hemp from marijuana is the amount of THC," said Sgt. Robert Gomez, an EPPD spokesman.
The difference between marijuana and hemp products is the level of THC in them. In Texas, the legal quantity for THC is 0.3% anything more and it gets qualified as illegal. The major problem not only for EPPD - but also for other police departments across the state - is distinguishing illegal marijuana from legal hemp, and only a lab can make that determination.
Ever since the law in Texas changed legalizing CBD and hemp, police officers have had to change the way they approach an arrest.
"Any amount of THC was illegal in the past, so really the testing was more simple: it was more present or not present. So now that we have to have a specific amount of THC to classify as an illegal substance more quantitative testing needs to be done," Gomez said.
The proposal to City Council is to increase the police budget by $360,000 over the next five years as part of a contract with a lab.
"It has to do with arresting practices, it has to do with the law change - what the law requires for us to seek prosecution. So that is really what this increase in the budget is - it doesn't mean that we are arresting more or not, it just means that the evidence we have to present has to be within the law, which in turn costs more," Gomez explained.
At the moment, the El Paso District Attorney's Office has put a pause on small marijuana cases - saying it cannot prosecute any of them without the lab results.
"DPS is still not testing small amounts of marijuana, therefore, these cases cannot be prosecuted without
the lab results as they are the key evidence to obtaining a conviction," Paul Ferris, a spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office said. "The few labs that exist for testing drug cases have indicated that the priority for testing will be the big marijuana cases, and if there is funding available after testing these bigger drug cases, then they will begin testing the smaller cases."
The manager of a local smoke shop told ABC-7 that he thinks a better economic solution would be to legalize marijuana and generate tax revenue as opposed to potentially increasing taxes to pay for testing.
"I know it's not up to (the city), it's up to Texas really. And if Texas wanted to do something about it, then they might as well make marijuana legal so that they can just tax the hell out of it - instead of taxing the people for drug tests," said Michael Cisneros.