04/06

Austin to consider stopping arrests, tickets in low-level marijuana cases after hemp law

Four progressive members of the City Council are pushing the proposal, which needs two more votes to pass.

by Alex Samuels and Jolie McCullough Jan. 10, 20202 PM




As Texas law enforcement grapples with how to determine whether a substance is marijuana after lawmakers legalized hemp last year, one city’s officials are putting forward their own solution: effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot altogether.

The Austin City Council will vote on a proposal later this month that, if approved, would “virtually end arrests and fines” by city police for possession of personal amounts of cannabis, according to a summary and copy of the measure obtained by The Texas Tribune.

The resolution, raised by four progressive members of the 11-member council, would largely direct police to stop arresting people or issuing citations in low-level marijuana possession cases in which officers won’t be able to get lab reports to chemically distinguish between now-legal hemp and illegal marijuana. It also would forbid the city from spending funds or using its personnel to perform such tests.

“If there’s no intent to sell or distribute, we’re not going to mess with it,” said Greg Casar, the lead sponsor of the proposal.


Still, many prosecutors are requiring the piece of paper from a crime lab, and Texas’ government-run labs haven’t quite yet ironed out a method for testing hemp versus marijuana. They are able to determine if THC is in a substance, but not how much. In the meantime, new misdemeanor pot cases are being rejected by some prosecutors or held in limbo waiting for lab testing.

But that doesn’t mean police have stopped arresting or citing people, including in Austin. Some people are still taken to jail but then released, and no charges are pursued.

Some city police departments are paying more money to utilize the few private labs that can perform such testing. For example, Plano’s City Council in North Texas and Montgomery County’s commissioners near Houston have both approved providing more funding for local law enforcement to acquire these new tests that weren’t often required in personal-use pot cases before.

Casar said Austin shouldn’t be spending taxpayer money on the issue.

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