On July 2, the Austin Police Department in Texas officially stopped arresting and issuing citations for marijuana possession. This decision was communicated in an internal memo from Brain Manley, the department chief.
The internal memo categorically states that the police officers in Austin, Texas will no longer be required to cite or arrest suspects in cases when an officer determines that a suspect has committed misdemeanor marijuana possession cases identified as Class A or Class B offenses.
However, the person can still be arrested or be subjected to other law enforcement actions if the misdemeanor marijuana possession offense is committed alongside another felony-level narcotics crime, or when the person poses an immediate safety threat to either police officers or members of the public.
Greg Casar, a councilmember in Austin, applauds the decision made by Chief Manley. He says that in his view, Texas needs to move towards full marijuana legalization so that the substance can be regulated and taxed. In the meantime, Greg Casar says that the step taken by the Austin PD is commendable since police resources and personnel will no longer be allocated to following up minor marijuana possession cases.
Casar adds that people of color and other minority groups have suffered disproportionately during the war on drugs, and while the Texas police decision to stop enforcing misdemeanor cannabis possession cases doesn’t go far enough in addressing these wrongs, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction of reforming the entire criminal justice system in Texas.
Jax Finkel, the executive director of the Texas chapter of NORML, agrees with Councilmember Greg Casar. Finkel revealed that he was excited that the Austin police department had finally taken this decision. He believes that the decision would have been communicated back in January, but some internal issues may have delayed the making of the decision.
Nevertheless, Jax Finkel is happy that at long last, the die has been cast. He adds that things are happening across the country which show that there is a huge divide between the community and the police which is supposed to serve those communities. He therefore hopes that this one small decision can get a process started to mend the relationship between the police and the community.
In his memo, Chief Manley revealed that the police department had never regarded enforcing personal marijuana possession cases as a law enforcement priority. However, the legal changes that kept being passed gradually made marijuana possession cases more prominent until industrial hemp was legalized in the state. This legal change made it complicated for law enforcement to distinguish hemp from marijuana, and as a result, several police departments unilaterally decided to put a halt to prosecuting marijuana possession cases until the attorney general of the state clarified how the police and prosecutors could handle this complexity.
Now that the command structure of the Austin PD has been trained about what is to happen going forward, marijuana industry actors like Pure Extracts Corp. will be hoping that other law enforcement agencies in different cities and states where recreational marijuana isn’t legal also take a similar progressive step.
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