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Politics

Austin votes to ban no-knock warrants and decriminalize small amounts of weed

Early voting results indicate Proposition A will likely pass in Austin.
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Early voting results indicate Proposition A will likely pass in Austin.

Lee esta historia en español.

By a sweeping margin, voters in Austin appear to have approved a proposition to sanction small amounts of marijuana and ban the use of no-knock warrants by police.

Roughly 85% of voters were in favor of Proposition A, according to results from Travis, Williamson and Hays counties. (The city spans portions of all three counties.)

Turnout was low, which is common for elections that don't take place in November; about 11% of people registered to vote in Travis County participated.

By passing Prop A, voters are simply codifying current police policy on marijuana.

People found with small amounts — 4 oz. or less — of marijuana in Austin already don’t face criminal charges. Because of a state law from 2019 legalizing hemp, prosecutors began dropping misdemeanor marijuana cases. After some back and forth in 2020, Austin police agreed to stop citing people for the offense.

Mike Siegel, co-founder of the nonprofit that circulated a petition to get Prop A on the ballot — Ground Game Texas — said he hopes the action in Austin reverberates throughout the state.

“This lays down an extremely clear marker for the rest of Texas that one, this is something that’s possible. That a city can decide to end marijuana enforcement," Siegel said. "And two, that it’s extremely popular."

Ground Game Texas is working on similar ballot items in other Central Texas cities, including San Marcos and Elgin.

Prop A also bans the use of no-knock warrants in Austin, which is new. According to the Austin Police Department, police executed three no-knock warrants in 2021.

No-knock warrants are when police enter a building without announcing their presence. The use and, at times, deadly outcomes of these types of warrants gained national attention when police killed Breonna Taylor in Louisville after using a no-knock warrant to enter her home while she was sleeping.

Currently, Austin police are required to get both a commander and a judge to sign off on a no-knock warrant. With the passage of Prop A, police executing warrants will be required to announce their presence and wait 15 seconds before entering the building.

But on Sunday afternoon, the head of the local police union told KUT that because state law dictates search warrant protocol he doesn't consider Prop A to be legitimate.

"To me [Prop A passing] really doesn't mean anything," Ken Casaday said. "If we need to do a [no-knock] search warrant because have an Austin bomber on the loose, we're still going to do it. You can't control state law through local elections."

KUT reached out to Austin's police chief and the department to understand if police would be instructed to not use no-knock warrants, but did not hear back.

Corrected: May 7, 2022 at 7:09 PM CDT
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Austin police used three no-knock warrants in 2022. The correct year is 2021.
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