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Austin police won’t cite, arrest for misdemeanor pot charges, chief says

Hojun Choi and Kelsey Bradshaw,
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said in a memo on Thursday that officers will no longer cite or arrest people for Class A or Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Austin police will no longer cite or arrest people for Class A or Class B misdemeanor marijuana possession, Chief Brian Manley said in a memo Thursday.

Officers will now only cite or arrest people for misdemeanor marijuana possession if a person’s safety is at risk, if it is part of a felony narcotics case or in an investigation of a violent felony, Manley said.

Earlier this year in January, the Austin City Council voted to end enforcement of such low-level marijuana charges. Police also were stopped from pursuing new testing methods to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp.

In June 2019, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Texas House Bill 1325, which defined legal hemp as cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

“After reviewing the current protocols for handling marijuana cases at all of the relevant county and district courts and attorney offices and/or conferring with representatives from those respective entities, APD has revised our marijuana-enforcement polices to comply with council’s resolution and align with present practices within the local judicial system,” Manley wrote.

Manley said that after the city’s ruling, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would no longer be accepting misdemeanor marijuana cases for lab analysis.

The Austin Police Department has stopped development of testing, Manley said. The department is in the process of contracting with vendors to conduct testing in felony cannabis-related trafficking cases.

Manley said the department will inform officers of the policy change, adding that the information has been added to the Police Department’s training bulletin.

City Council Member Greg Casar, who spearheaded the January resolution, said on Thursday that Manley’s announcement was overdue.

“When people organize for racial justice, they can make real change. Although the police chief should have made this change the day after City Council passed my resolution directing this back in January, it finally happened today because of continued community advocacy,” Casar said in a written statement.

Casar added that he would like to continue seeing more changes aimed at criminal justice reform.

“This victory is only a small step compared to the much more transformational change that we must make this summer to our city’s budget and policing practices. Keep organizing,” Casar wrote.