Voters in Austin, Texas overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to decriminalize low-level cannabis possession and ban no-knock warrants, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The measure passed with 85.49% of the vote.
The city council must next codify the rules into law and once finalized, Austin police will be barred from issuing citations or making arrests for low-level cannabis possession – with limited exceptions – and will be required to announce their presence and wait at least 15 seconds before executing a search warrant.
The only exception for the cannabis policy is if the arrest or citation is part of an investigation into a high-priority narcotics case or a violent felony, the report says. Police will be allowed to seize cannabis under the policy.
Neither is a major change from the current police department policy. In 2020, the Austin City Council passed a resolution to end misdemeanor cannabis arrests and tickets, but the vote entrenches that resolution as law. City police officials said they execute just a handful of no-knock warrants every year, but the vote will prohibit the practice entirely.
The police union was neutral on the cannabis language but opposed the no-knock warrant reforms. Austin Police Association Chairman Ken Casaday told the Statesman said the passage of the initiative is “really a feel-good deal for the people that were behind” but that the group doesn’t “believe it really affects anything.”
“We don’t believe that will affect us. The city of Austin cannot tell the police chief how to run his department when it comes to safety, and we fully expect to continue to do search warrants even though we only do maybe two or three a year. I don’t think this will affect anything. As far as the marijuana goes, we’ve pretty much had a hands-off policy for the last two or three years.” – Casaday to the Statesman
Mike Siegel, political director for Ground Game Texas which backed the reforms, told Bloomberg that the overwhelming support shows “that progressives in Texas have an opportunity to win elections and increase voter engagement by leaning into progressive issues.” The group has indicated plans to petition in more cities across the Lonestar State to enact similar reforms.
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