How marijuana is essentially legal in Texas

Texas Monthly tested smokable hemp purchased across the state and found it tested above the legal limit for THC.

By Aislyn GaddisJuly 1, 2024 3:27 pm,

Marijuana is illegal in Texas … or is it?

A recent Texas Monthly investigation tested smokable hemp purchased from different dispensaries across the state and found out all of the samples were actually marijuana. Russell Gold, a senior editor at Texas Monthly, joined the Texas Standard to share more about the magazine’s findings.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: For your investigation, you bought what is called hemp at eight different places across the state. Tell me about the dispensaries you visited.

Russell Gold: Well, several colleagues and I visited dispensaries in Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio. What we wanted to do in each place was go to sort of a high-end, more of a white glove type, hemp dispensary and then just a strip mall – one you would find anywhere, almost like a gas station strip mall.

And so we went to one of each in each city, and we bought what are called pre-roll or just flower, which are basically buds of the cannabis plant. It is supposed to be hemp. It is supposed to have a very low level of the psychoactive THC ingredient under state law.

But, when we sent it off for testing, what came back frankly surprised us. The lowest amount of THC we found was nine times the legal limit, but we actually purchased some that was 40 times the legal limit. And what that means is that this isn’t hemp. It is marijuana by any definition.

So you were so surprised at how high the THC was. Well, what accounts for this?  

Well, I think what accounts for it are several things. The hemp industry, when it started here in Texas, started with CBD gummies, you know, very low-level cannabis products. But, they found, according to my reporting, during the pandemic, that what sold much better were some of these new compounds that were being offered. Delta-8 people may have heard of, and there’s something new called THCa.

These are just chemical compounds that smell like marijuana and look like marijuana – and in some circumstances, they are marijuana. And they’re coming in from out of state, by and large. And they had certificates that said, well, these were tested by the manufacturer and these are below the federal and state legal limits. But when we tested them, that was not the case.

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So these were all licensed hemp dispensaries. How does the marijuana end up being sold there, and are there any consequences?

Well, it’s a great question. There are actually now 7,000 stores across Texas which the state has licensed to be hemp dispensaries. They’re pretty much everywhere right now. And, according to testimony recently before a Senate committee, the state has, I believe, four inspectors to inspect all 7,000 of these dispensaries.

And, they testified that at the current rate, they could get to every dispensary about every four years. So really, the state is just not doing a very adequate job of of checking in on these dispensaries. And even when they show up, they’re not always, you know, purchasing and buying, doing what we did, which is sending it away for testing. They’re just looking to make sure that the products have paperwork that says, yeah, this is below 0.3% THC.

But, you know, when you go into these dispensaries, which we did, you know, we essentially said, “Hey, look, we’re looking for something that’s going to get us really high.” And, what we were sold, in fact, would do the trick, as it were. Like I said, it tested at very, very high levels of THC.

I mean, just to give your listeners a sense, back in the 80s, the average amount of THC in marijuana that was confiscated by the DEA was about 3%. We were buying marijuana that tested at anywhere between 5 to 12%. So this is much, much more potent than what would be considered street marijuana of past decades.

And are there any penalties for these dispensaries?

I mean, there are penalties because they’re not supposed to, but nobody’s paying attention. They could be shut down. They could have their marijuana or their hemp confiscated. But, it’s so infrequent that these dispensaries essentially are operating in what’s a gray area of the law right now, and they’re not being shut down.

The number of inspections and dispensaries being shut down is just minimal. I’m not even sure any dispensary has ever been shut down by the state of Texas to date.

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