Just a day after the Austin City Council resolved to stop ticketing and arresting individuals for low-level cannabis possession offences; the police defied that resolution. Police Chief Brian Manley said on January 24 that marijuana is still illegal, and the police will enforce the law if they find anyone smoking in the community.
Although the department does not actively crackdown those with small amounts of cannabis, the police chief is not moved. He said that the police would continue to arrest people if officers “come across it” or issue tickets under the city’s “cite-and-release” policy.
The City Council’s resolution means that any arrests or tickets will come with no penalty once the law is fully implemented. The sponsor of this resolution, Greg Casar, a City Council member said:
“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,”
The City Council reached its decision based on Texas’ new hemp law that complicated marijuana prosecution across the entire state. When lawmakers legalized hemp, they changed the definition of marijuana to cannabis that has over 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in weed.
Cannabis Court Cases
Prosecutors will not accept cannabis cases based on smell and look alone; they will need lab test results to determine the THC levels before taking any case. Such testing is not available in the public crime labs yet, but some cities and counties spend money to get results from private labs.
The city’s resolution prohibits the use of public funds or personnel to do these tests in non-felony cannabis cases. The city council also directed the removal of arrests or citations for cannabis possession to the furthest extent possible. But, the resolution clarifies that it cannot technically decriminalize marijuana because that is the state law.
This resolution gave the city manager until May 1, 2020, to report to the council on how the police officers were trained on the changes. But the police chief commented:
“A City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce state law.”
Will the police follow the City Council’s directive or will they continue with the arrests and ticketing? Time will tell it all.