‘Cite and Release’ marijuana cases also require testing, city says

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The city of El Paso says marijuana cases involving individuals who qualify for ‘cite and release’ also require testing as authorities require evaluations of items suspected of having Tetrahydrocannabinol.

Testing in any marijuana case is required, according to explanations from the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office and the city. The clarification comes as the El Paso Police Department is requesting approximately $72,000 in additional funding to cover costs of increased testing for THC.

“This requirement was submitted in writing to EPPD via DA Yvonne Rosales (office),” a city statement read. “The police department – having presented the case either through cite and release citation or regular arrest – has a duty to provide evidence as required by the District Attorney’s office to assist in case presentation and ultimately prosecution.”

Earlier this month, the police department told the El Paso City Council that funding for additional testing capacities was needed to provide authorities with clear understanding of items suspected of having illegal amounts of THC.

A May 10 letter from the DA’s office to the police requested the lab results for marijuana cases to provide distinguishable proof between illegal substances and hemp. State definitions of marijuana have changed to legalize hemp.

And, items containing more than .3 percent THC, which causes a high, are what remain illegal.

“The only way to legally prosecute such types of cases requires a lab test proving the substance has the .3 higher THC concentration,” a statement from the DA’s office read. “The letter to EPPD indicated the need for a lab test result in order to prevail in trial proving the case beyond a reasonable doubt that the substance was in fact an illegal substance.”

It is unclear when the City Council will have a deeper conversation over whether El Paso police should pursue cases involving small amounts of marijuana but some representatives have voiced opposition to the idea.

Just last year, the police department began implementing what is known as ‘cite and release,’ which is a reference to a policy that tickets residents for the offense but keeps residents caught with small trace amounts of marijuana out of jail. Early reviews of the impact by ‘cite and release’ policy shows most cases involve teens and young adults.

The DA’s office says state authorities have stopped testing for small amounts of marijuana.

“DPS for some time quit testing small amounts of marijuana, so without a test, the evidence to seek prosecution was lacking,” a statement from the DA’s office says. “DPS continues to test large quantities of marijuana, so those cases continue to be prosecuted when the evidence, ie lab report, is received. DPS is overwhelmed with cases and EPPD has the ability to alleviate some of the work for testing, but needs additional funding for taking on the work.”

But as local officials figure out approaches to dealing with marijuana cases, a new wrinkle is developing due to the legalization of recreational use in New Mexico.

A letter written by a representative of District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ office to the police department points to the issue.

“Please keep in mind the changing formulation of products that are showing in El Paso via interstate transit,” the letter reads.

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