The Austin City Council approved a resolution Thursday that will largely end arrests and fines for low-level marijuana possession. This comes after Texas’ legalization of hemp last June threw marijuana prosecution into chaos since the plants look and smell identical.
The resolution directs Austin police not to spend city resources on newly necessary lab tests to distinguish marijuana from now-legal hemp. It passed unanimously with nine votes. Council member Jimmy Flannigan and Mayor Steve Adler were absent. Debate on the measure lasted just under an hour and a half. About 20 people spoke on the resolution, and only Austin Police Association President Ken Casaday voiced opposition.
Austin residents who spoke in favor of the resolution cited the lack of racial equity in marijuana enforcement, the lasting impact that criminal records have on young and marginalized people, and the failure of the Texas Legislature to decriminalize at the state level. A retired officer and an attorney who previously worked in the Texas attorney general’s office said law enforcement officers largely support this measure, though they are discouraged from voicing it.
The council was careful to emphasize that this was not a change in state law, but rather the city of Austin reprioritizing how and where it spends its resources. [Read more at Texas Tribune]
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