Austin’s Police Chief Says Pot Arrests Will Continue Despite Decriminalization
Austin’s top cop said his department will continue to target pot smokers, but the City Council is adamant that all minor weed cases will be dismissed.
Published on January 27, 2020

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Historically, Austin is known as a bastion of progressivism in Texas’ sea of Southern red. But even amongst the city’s largely liberal population, Austin’s police department is apparently as hard-nosed as they come.

Last week, Austin City Council approved a new resolution to decriminalize minor cannabis possession, removing all penalties for personal-level pot crimes. But as soon as the local law was ratified, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley pushed back against city lawmakers, saying that his department would continue to target marijuana users.

“[Marijuana] is still illegal, and we will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” Chief Manley said during a news conference on Friday afternoon.

Under the city’s new decriminalization law, though, Manley and his officers will be wasting their time with pot charges. In an interview with the Texas Tribune, Austin City Councilor Greg Casar said that neither tickets nor arrests will have any real-world consequence after any police interaction is over.

“What has changed since yesterday is that enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” Casar told the Tribune.

The Austin cannabis decriminalization ordinance was passed in large part as a response to changes in state hemp legalization, and subsequent complications with pot prosecution. Since pot and hemp are often indistinguishable to the naked eye, a number of Texas pot cases have been thrown out, due to a lack of concrete testing for THC levels. Now, the City Council’s decriminalization law will make any hemp complications moot.

Still, Chief Manley has so far been adamant that Austin cops will ignore the local law shift, and told reporters on Friday that “a City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce state law.” 

The City Council cannabis resolution specifically outlined a May 1st deadline for the Austin City Manager to report back on how police have been re-trained to respect decriminalization. Casar told reporters that he is hopeful Chief Manley will review and restructure department policy before the spring.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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