Marijuana

The Austin City Council Voted for Marijuana Reform. Austin's Police Chief Says He'll Keep Arresting People.

Council member Gregorio Casar: "I think the state of Texas should come out of the Stone Ages and not only decriminalize but legalize marijuana in the state."

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The city council of Austin, Texas, has passed a measure in an attempt to decriminalize low-level offenses of weed, but police are threatening to continue arrests.

The recreational use of marijuana is still very much illegal in Texas, but the state's 2019 legalization of marijuana's nonpsychoactive cousin, hemp, has left law enforcement with no simple way to distinguish the two substances. (In Texas, hemp is defined as having less than 0.3 percent THC.)

Prosecutors in Travis County dropped 32 possession cases in July because lab tests showing THC concentration were not carried out. District Attorney Margaret Moore said that state labs estimated it would take them eight to 12 months to determine the concentration, so trying the cases would effectively force Moore's office to pay private labs to both test each sample and to testify to the findings in court.

On Thursday, Austin City Council voted unanimously to effectively decriminalize low-level marijuana offenses rather than allow money to be spent on new testing equipment.

The council does not actually have the jurisdiction to decriminalize marijuana since it remains illegal at the state level. Instead, it passed a resolution preventing the city from spending more taxpayer dollars on testing for misdemeanor offenses such as possession up to 4 ounces, which is classified by the state as personal use. It also asked Austin Police Department (APD) to no longer make arrests or give tickets for low-level offenses.

APD Chief Brian Manley promised on Friday that ticketing and arrests would continue despite the resolution. According to Manley, marijuana "is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community." But the department's continued enforcement will be fruitless since the resolution passed by the city council renders all penalties null without testing.

Gregorio Casar, council member for District 4 and a sponsor of the resolution, tells Reason that there were hundreds of Austinites with citations for possession prior to the vote. These cases will now be dropped because testing will not be paid for.

Though Manley remains adamant about enforcement, Casar confirms that City Council has asked APD to review its policies to "get as close to eliminating low-level marijuana arrests as possible" before May.

"As a sponsor of the item, I think the state of Texas should come out of the Stone Ages and not only decriminalize but legalize marijuana in the state," Casar says. "But between here and then, I think that what we did on Thursday was the most a city council can do to reduce the life-derailing impact of low-level possession charges."

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  1. Takin er jerbs!

    1. But opening more jobs in security for growers!

  2. But the department’s continued enforcement will be fruitless since the resolution passed by the city council renders all penalties null without testing.

    You never know what actual prosecutable offense police will find while extralegally rousting stoners.

  3. Perhaps the city should pass a resolution that requires andy cop that does not adhere to resolutions/policies be fired immediately.

    1. Sounds good, but the union won’t let it happen.

    2. I think an easy and effective thing to do would be to simply pass a law saying that for every low-level possession arrest, the police budget will be automatically reduced by 15%

  4. I wonder if this schizo battle twixt council and police could be the basis of wrongful arrest lawsuits. I mean …… if cops continue arresting people for things they will never be prosecuted for, that seems like something a hungry lawyer might want to look into.

    1. That is a very good point, and a great idea, but the cynic in me thinks the cops will find some bullshit way to weasel out of being held accountable for being harassing dicks.

  5. APD Chief Brian Manley promised on Friday that ticketing and arrests would continue despite the resolution.

    He believes that Austin City should have Limits.

  6. Gregorio Casar, council member for District 4 and a sponsor of the resolution, tells Reason that there were hundreds of Austinites with citations for possession prior to the vote.

    I’m guessing it’s pretty easy-pickins at SXSW.

  7. Council member Gregorio Casar: “I think the state of Texas should come out of the Stone Ages and not only decriminalize but legalize marijuana in the state.”

    Out of the Stone Ages and into the stoned age!

    1. Thank you, the set-up had dangled in the air long enough before someone provided the punch line.

  8. So the police have enough evidence to make an arrest without knowing if a key element of the crime exists (the THC content), which is only determined later?

    Am I missing something? Maybe there’s something which gives them probable cause to arrest but not enough to overcome that pesky reasonable doubt.

    1. Maybe cops have a knowledge of marijuana which is good enough to make arrests but not good enough to use in court?

      Help me out here.

    2. It’s probable cause to arrest someone if he is carrying something that looks very much like weed. The cop’s opinion that it’s weed is not enough for a conviction.

  9. “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.” ― Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn , The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

  10. I’m sorry, but I have to stay with the police chief. The city council lacks both jurisdiction and authority to make this judgement.

    The police don’t swear an oath to uphold the will of the city council. They swear an oath to uphold the law. I will not condemn a policeman for upholding that instead of bowing to political pressure.

    1. Sure, if they catch some guy who they have probable cause to believe has a substance with the illegal amount of THC, go ahead and arrest them.

      But I’m curious how they know the THC content without a test. This may expose my ignorance, but is the smell somehow stronger?

      I’m not asking Napolitano-type rhetorical questions, I really am that dumb.

      1. Probable cause just has to be reasonable. If you are carrying a glassine bag with a gram of a white powder in it, they’ll probably arrested you for cocaine possession — and despite what every screenwriter seems to think, they aren’t going to taste-test it first. Police departments try to discourage their officers from taking cocaine.

    2. There’s plenty of laws they don’t enforce, at least until someone complains. Anyway, there’s no excuse for marijuana laws which were only promulgated to harass Hispanics, and are not supported by the Constitution.

  11. They are arresting people when they know they cannot collect enough evidence to convict?

    How is that not false arrest?

  12. Fire the police chief. Problem solved.

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