City council: Should Austin police even hand out tickets for marijuana possession?

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police mostly use a cite-and-release policy for low-level marijuana possession offenses, but now two council members are asking whether officers should be handing out tickets at all.

In a message to fellow council members, Delia Garza and Greg Casar said there should be a discussion about whether APD officers should take any action for misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

This comes after some attorneys said they wouldn’t prosecute offenders following a change in state law.

Texas legalized hemp earlier this year, but distinguishing it from marijuana, which has more THC, has proven to be a challenge.

The Texas Department of Public Safety isn’t capable of testing for THC yet, and prosecutors say sending the drugs out of state for testing is difficult and expensive.

Garza and Casar acknowledged this challenge.

While the city is looking into purchasing its own THC testing equipment and training staff, the two council members noted “serious concerns about the use of scarce funds for these purposes.”

New laws aside, they also said citations for marijuana possession can affect one getting student financial aid, housing or government benefits.

Austin Zamhariri supports the idea. He was arrested for marijuana possession nine years ago and says that conviction has followed him ever since.

“It’s a mark on your record,” he said. “Financial institutions, potential employers, government agencies, everybody can see that.”

While prosecutors have been sheepish about taking up low-level cases, state leaders have been quick to clarify that marijuana has not been decriminalized in Texas.

Andy Hogue with the Travis County Republican Party tells KXAN decriminalization is one thing but stopped short of saying there shouldn’t be any citations at all.

“These are things that must not be entered into quickly or lightly,” he said. “They need to be looked at very carefully using other states as a laboratory.”

KXAN reached out to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office and Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office regarding the council members’ proposal but had not heard back as of Friday evening.

A group of council members including Garza and Casar will take up the discussion at a Judicial Committee meeting on Sept. 3.

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