Austin to stop arresting people for cannabis possession

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Thor Benson

Police officers in Austin, Texas will no longer be arresting people or citing them for possession of small amounts of cannabis. Austin City Council voted to stop enforcing laws against the possession of small amounts of cannabis earlier this year, but the police had initially resisted this change in policy.

“APD will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley wrote in the memo.

Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Cannabis News Box that this seems to be part of a trend in the state.

“I know that several other cities are in the talks of doing this,” Finkel said. “They may already have diversion plans in place but they want to be able to spend no funds or time on these low level, victimless offenses.”

Finkel said he believes the state of Texas is moving toward decriminalizing cannabis generally. He said that the pandemic has created a situation where money would be better spent on things other than arresting or citing people for possessing cannabis.

“With the economic impact of the pandemic, many agencies need to spend funds elsewhere. Additionally, it will lower interactions between law enforcement and the public, which is important in reducing exposure,” Finkel said. “There was strong bipartisan support for penalty reduction last year and I think these circumstances coupled with the protests for social justice create an even larger appetite.”

As for legalizing cannabis, Finkel said the best bet is that the medical cannabis program in the state, which is currently very limited, could be expanded sometime next year. In the meantime, many advocates are working to get decriminalization done. 

Though Texas is known as a conservative state, it is starting to become more liberal, which may be good news for those hoping for the state to legalize cannabis. If Texas was to legalize, that would mean the two largest states, California and Texas, would have legal cannabis. It unlikely that’ll happen this year, but it may happen in the not-too-distant future. The November election may also change the makeup of Texas’ legislature, which could affect the legalization fight.