The Austin Police Department will no longer be writing tickets or arresting individuals for cannabis possession, according to a memo from police chief Brian Manley.

However, arrests will continue if “there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so is part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.”

In June 2019, Texas legalized hemp, which prompted the Austin City Council to approve a resolution in January to largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. The resolution passed unanimously and directed Austin police to not spend city resources on lab testing to distinguish cannabis from hemp, reports the Texas Tribune. 

Manley’s memo, issued on July 2, is finally a step in the right direction, Austin Council member Greg Casar told KVUE.

“At some point the state of Texas needs to step up and do their part and legalize it so it can be properly taxed and regulated. But for now not having the police wasting their time on these personal marijuana cases – it is the right policy and we’ve been fighting to achieve this for many years,” Casar said. “There’s been a disproportionate impact on less privileged communities, communities of colour, and the fact of the matter is Austin should be a place that is more forward-thinking and so it is – it’s important that this small step has been taken even though we know we have a long way to go in transforming the criminal justice system.”

Jax Finkel, of Texas NORML, told KVUE the change was a long time coming.

“I’m excited this has finally happened. I think it probably could have happened back in January and it has been delayed some. But I’m very happy that even if it’s a bit late, it’s happening,” Finkel said. “Right now with how things are going across our country we see a great divide between communities and the law enforcement that is supposed to serve and protect them, and so I hope that this can help at least in one small way, start to heal those relationships between those communities.”

The memo states that enforcement of misdemeanour marijuana offences has not been a priority of the APD since 2007, when the Texas Legislature amended the Code of Criminal Procedure to allow officers to issue citations for cannabis possession. The APD then implemented a “cite and release” program that deferred almost 13,000 arrests during its first four years of operation, the memo states.

Under Texas state law, however, cannabis possession remains a crime, which has been the case since 1931. According to the Texas Tribune, enforcement is largely dependent on where you live in the state, with some jurisdictions cracking down harder than others.

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