According to a memo released by The Austin Police Department last Thursday, the department will no longer be making arrests for cannabis possession throughout the city.
A memo from the Austin Police Chief, Brian Manley, was sent to the Mayor of Austin and the City Council last Thursday, explaining that the APD would no longer be citing or arresting 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."
The de-facto decriminalization of cannabis in the city follows difficulties which arose last year when Texas legalized hemp and subsequently became unable to differentiate between low-THC hemp plants and THC-rich marijuana plants. The inability for prosecutors to distinguish hemp, which was legal, from illegal marijuana, meant that hundreds of cases had to be dropped, and the state could no longer effectively pursue low-level marijuana possession charges.
A Council member for District Four in Austin, named Greg Casar, told journalists on Thursday:
"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 color, 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."
As many know, cannabis decriminalization is often the first step toward legalization, which seems to have been an unintended byproduct of legalizing hemp in the state. If decriminalization proves successful in Austin, we may see the beginning stages of cannabis legalization in Texas, which has historically been one of the strictest states when it comes to cannabis.
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