Austin Police Department Will No Longer Arrest Or Ticket People For Personal Weed Possession
A police department in Texas has announced it will no longer arrest or ticket people for personal marijuana possession.
Austin Police Chief Brian Manley shared the news on Thursday, July 2, more than a year after Texas Legislature legalised hemp and caused confusion with regards to marijuana prosecutions across the state.
The law issued last year narrowed the definition of marijuana from parts of the cannabis plant to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant. As a result, prosecutors dropped hundreds of marijuana cases, arguing they could not tell the difference between the two without unavailable lab testing.
The Austin City Council initially approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses in January, but the following day Manley said weed was still illegal and he would continue to enforce the law, the Texas Tribune reports.
A memorandum released by Manley yesterday announced the department would finally stop its citations and arrests, explaining:
The City Council directs the City Manager to take the steps necessary and appropriate to eliminate, to the furthest extent allowable under state law and as long as there is no immediate threat to a person’s safety, the use of arrest or other enforcement action for cannabis-related possession offenses, when the Chief of the Austin Police Department knows, or reasonably should know, that the prosecuting entity will automatically reject the charges or that a lab report will not be obtained to test the THC concentration of the substance.
The memo stated the move comes after the department reviewed 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’.
Austin Police Department added it had revised its marijuana-enforcement polices to ‘comply with Council’s resolution and align with present practices within the local judicial system.’
Police will no longer ticket or arrest individuals for ‘Class A or Class B misdemeanor “possession of marijuana” offenses’, unless there is a clear and immediate threat to a person’s safety or unless the case is linked to a high priority investigation.
Austin City Member Greg Casar commented on the move in relation to the different arrest rates between Black and white people, stating: ‘As recently as 2017, Black Austinites were seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white Austinites, even though cannabis is used at the same rate across races.’
The unjust pattern is one that extends across the United States, as an analysis by American Civil Liberties Union found that although Black and white people consume marijuana at roughly the same rates, Black people are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Thousands of our residents have needlessly been arrested for marijuana possession in recent years.
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.
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.
The decision to stop ticketing and arresting people for personal marijuana possession is a victory with regards to the fight for justice for Black people, as hopefully it will put a stop the disproportionate amount of Black people receiving criminal records for possession.
Last month, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk argued that people who had previously been imprisoned for smoking, possessing or selling weed in states where doing so is now legal should be released.
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