In one of the USA’s most conservative states, Austin, Texas has long been known as an island of progressive thought. In that spirit, Austin’s City Council last week approved a new resolution that effectively decriminalizes cannabis possession of small amounts.
Just one day after the new law was ratified, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley announced his department had no plans to stop arresting or ticketing people caught with marijuana.
“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Manley said during a press conference on Friday afternoon.
Cracking down regular people enjoying their bud has never been a priority for the department, he said, but police will still continue to either give out tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy or arrest them if officers “come across it.”
The good news for all cannabis enthusiasts is that those arrests and citations will be entirely meaningless. Tickets will be meaningless pieces of paper, and all arrests will result in a quick release with prosecutors dismissing all charges, Austin City Councilor Greg Casar told the Texas Tribune.
“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar told the Tribune.
The Austin cannabis decriminalization ordinance came in response to recent changes in Texas’ hemp legalization. In June 2019, the state fully legalized hemp and hemp-derived products.
Hemp and marijuana are botanically the same plants and are often indistinguishable without lab testing. Hemp is defined as Cannabis sativa L plants with a THC level of 0.3% or less, while cannabis (or marijuana) is the same plant, but with a THC level of more than 0.3%.
The only way for police to differentiate between the two is with expensive lab tests, which resulted in a large number of marijuana arrests in Texas to be thrown out since no specific testing for THC levels pot was performed.
Austin’s resolution now forbids the use of city funds or personnel to carry out such testing in non-felony marijuana cases. It also directs police to eliminate, as much as possible, arrests or citations for possession of cannabis. Cannabis is, however, still illegal under Texas state law.
That is why Chief Manley insists on ignoring the recent resolution. “A City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce state law,” he told reporters on Friday.
Since all those arrests and citations will be thrown out, either way, the only thing Chief Manley is achieving is one big waste of Texas taxpayer money.
Casar told reporters he hopes that Manley will rethink department policy.