AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Police Department announced on Thursday that it will no longer issue citations or arrest residents for misdemeanor personal marijuana possession.

A memo from Police Chief Brian Manley reads:

“APD will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor “possession of marijuana” offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.”

Back in January, the Austin City Council passed a resolution that effectively directed APD to “eliminate” the use of arrest unless under the threat of personal safety.

The Thursday announcement indicates that APD has revised its policies to comply with the council’s resolution.

Manley’s memo explains that the shift away from arresting and citing Austinites for low-level possession happened due to other statewide decisions as well. He points to a June 10, 2019, Texas House bill that authorized the production, manufacturing and sale of hemp crops and products.

Shortly after, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued would prioritize
resources on processing felony cases and not accept misdemeanor marijuana cases for analysis.

Manley says that citations decreased dramatically from 2017 (1,557) to 2019 (332) and that arrests decreased from 319 in 2017 to 54 in 2019.

Austin City Council member Greg Casar reacted in a statement, commending the move toward racial justice in law enforcement, saying:

“As recently as 2017, Black Austinites were seven times more likely to be arrested for possession of marijuana than white Austinites, even though cannabis is used at the same rate across races. Thousands of our residents have needlessly been arrested for marijuana possession in recent years.”

In April 2019, Austin Zamhariri, a man who was arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, told KXAN that his arrest has haunted his life ever since. He said that the arrest on his record made it difficult to find jobs, housing and receive financial aid for college.

“It makes you feel like a criminal and there’s nothing different about me than any other Texan,” Zamhariri said. “There are thousands and thousands of Texans across the state who do not deserve to go to jail for a miniscule amount of marijuana.”

An April report from the ACLU found that overall, Black Americans are 3.64 times more likely than white people to be arrested for marijuana possession.

It reads, in part:

“Indeed, in every state and in over 95 percent of counties with more than 30,000 people in which at least 1 percent of the residents are Black, Black people are arrested at higher rates than white people for marijuana possession.”