Austin poised to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin’s City Council will take up a bill next week that would effectively decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Under the proposal, citations and arrests for marijuana possession cases would virtually be eliminated.

City leaders say pursuing these cases is a waste of resources.

“This is so low on the totem pole,” said District 6 Council member Jimmy Flannigan. “This is so unnecessary to do.”

Flannigan joins Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council members Greg Casar and Natasha Harper-Madison in support of the bill.

Two other council members have confirmed to KXAN they will vote in support of the bill, giving it the six votes it needs to pass.

After the State of Texas legalized hemp last year, many prosecutors, including those in Travis County, said they’d stop prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana charges, unless they had a lab reports on THC levels.

THC is what distinguishes marijuana from legal hemp.

KXAN dug through statewide data and found the Travis County Attorney filed more than 1,000 of these cases in the first half of 2019.

After the hemp law passed, prosecutors filed charges only four times from July to November last year.

Yet APD has continued handing out tickets, despite cities like Round Rock stopping its cite-and-release program.

The proposal would also prevent the city from spending money on THC testing

Back in August APD told us it was in the beginning stages of developing a test, and the lab equipment it needed would cost $185,000.

KXAN asked for an update Monday and the department has not yet responded on whether that is still in the works.

Austin’s Mayor told KXAN:

“Austin is one of America’s safest big cities and maintaining that standing is our paramount goal. On this issue, e cannot ignore the national trend to de-criminalize low level personal marijuana use> it doesn’t seem fair, somehow, that conduct legal in many parts of the U.S. can land someone in jail in other parts. This is especially true when enforcement disproportionally impacts black and brown Texans. We have to question if we’re really safer by continuing policies that put non-violent, low-level offenders in jail and indirectly contribute to housing and job challenges, homelessness, and often crippling social stigma.”

Austin Mayor Steve Adler

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