The Austin, Texas City Council approved a resolution directing the city’s police to not spend city funds on lab tests to distinguish hemp from THC-rich cannabis, the Texas Tribune reports. The move will effectively end arrests and fines for low-level cannabis possession but law enforcement may still use funds for testing in felony cases.
The resolution comes more than six months after the state legalized hemp, which initially led to some counties dropping or choosing not to prosecute low-level cannabis crimes because hemp and THC-rich cannabis look and smell the same and require lab testing. Public state labs are working on establishing testing for THC concentration, according to the report, but right now they can only identify something as cannabis.
According to police data, misdemeanor cannabis possession cases in Texas fell from 5,688 in May to 1,919 by November.
Austin City Council member Gregorio Casar called the reprioritization of the city’s resources “the right thing” for both criminal justice reform and racial equity. The resolution directs Austin Police not to arrest or cite people for low-level possession, unless there is a safety concern, if they know the district attorney will throw out the case or that testing won’t be approved. The measure allows lab testing for suspected felonies or drug trafficking cases.
“We will look at our policies in regard to the resolution that just passed to determine what, if any, changes we need to make.” – Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, to the Tribune
Manley clarified that his department is instructed to “cite-and-release” low-level cannabis offenders but said he was concerned about the “violence involved in the illegal drug trade,” adding that since cannabis remains illegal in Texas “there is no legal or safe place” for individuals to purchase it.