“First and foremost, marijuana was not decriminalized,” Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said at a news conference Friday, a day after the City Council voted not to spend money on testing suspected marijuana except in high-priority felonies.
“That is an action that can only be taken by the state Legislature,” he said. He later added: "At this point, nothing will change. We will handle it as we have."
He said there are two options: An officer will either cite a person, if warranted, and release them, or an arrest will be made.
The Travis County district attorney and the county attorney have been dismissing some marijuana cases since Texas legislators legalized hemp last year. But APD has continued to cite for low-level possession even though it doesn't have the testing protocols to distinguish marijuana from hemp.
On Thursday, Council unanimously voted not to spend city money on testing except in the case of high-priority felonies, like trafficking or violent offenses.
Council Member Greg Casar said the resolution was the biggest move the city could take to stop the prosecution of low-level cases. He said it was the right thing to do from a common sense and criminal justice perspective.
“There's a human cost obviously, but I think there's also a public safety cost. I think that us spending extra dollars to pursue these low level cases not only isn’t right, but actually makes us less safe because that instability in people’s lives … is part of what drives lack of safety in our community,” Casar said at Thursday's meeting.
Casar told KUT on Friday he agrees APD must enforce state law, but that the resolution did change some things. For example, he said, while you could get a citation for possession of small amounts of marijuana, you won't have to go to court or pay a penalty. You'll just end up with a "worthless piece of paper."
He added that anyone who’s gotten a citation in the past few months could have been charged once proper testing protocols had been established. He said those cases will now remain unprosecuted and unpursued.
"Between here and May, now that there's not gonna be prosecutions, [Manley] can talk with Round Rock and Travis County – who have stopped issuing citations altogether – and figure out what the best path is toward eliminating enforcement to the greatest extent allowable under state law," Casar said.
Manley said APD will be looking at council's resolution to see if the department's practices and policies should be changed. The chief said the enforcement of low-level marijuana use has never been a priority, adding his department "deals with it when we come across it."
Council wants to hear back on the implementation of the resolution at the beginning of May.
This story has been updated.
Got a tip? Email Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jerryquijano.
If you found the reporting above valuable, please consider making a donation to support it. Your gift pays for everything you find on KUT.org. Thanks for donating today.