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Austin police chief says low-level marijuana arrests were never a priority

The Austin City Council voted Jan. 23 to stop the arrests and fines for low-level pot possession.

AUSTIN, Texas — One day after the Austin City Council voted to end arrests and fines for people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana, Austin's police chief said this decision has not changed the department's enforcement protocols.

Brian Manley, chief of the Austin Police Department, said at a press conference Jan. 24 that low-level marijuana enforcement has never been a priority for his police department.

He reminded the public at the press conference that marijuana use and possession is still illegal and that the department will continue to enforce the law. 

Manley said if Austin officers come across someone using or in possession of small amounts of marijuana – for example, during a traffic stop – officers will "address it." He said this means an officer could decide to cite and release a person in possession of a small amount of marijuana or an officer could decide to arrest a person in possession.

The police chief said the department will look at the resolution closely to see if the Austin PD's guidelines need to change.

Manley's statements come after councilmembers on Jan. 23 voted 9-0 to end arrests and fines for people caught with small amounts of marijuana. A small amount is up to the officer's discretion to decide, but a misdemeanor offense is typically defined as two to four grams.

After Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 1325, allowing Texas farmers to grow hemp statewide, law enforcement agencies are now required to distinguish between hemp and marijuana through expensive lab equipment. 


Austin City Council votes to end arrests for small amounts of marijuana

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The resolution passed by the Austin councilmembers stops funding for that lab equipment at the Austin Police Department, Councilmember Greg Casar said.

"We know that too many Austinites have had their lives derailed by a low-level marijuana offense," Casar said during a press conference on Tuesday. "People have lost their jobs, they could lose their student financial aid, families could even be separated by deportation when we overly enforce low-level offenses that could result in arrests or warrants."

Austin has until May 1 to update its guidelines and to train officers to stop arresting or issuing citations for minor marijuana charges.

WATCH: Austin ends low-level marijuana prosecution


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