AUSTIN, Texas — On Thursday, the Austin City Council voted to stop arrests and fines for low-level pot possession.
The move comes after the Texas Legislature legalized hemp last year, causing issues for prosecutors unable to determine the difference between hemp and marijuana without expensive testing. The council vote means that testing will now be reserved for high-level cases.
Since Texas legalized hemp in June of last year, minor marijuana prosecutions have dropped considerably. Across the state, the number of misdemeanor marijuana cases has nearly dropped in half.
Statewide, there were 4,943 marijuana cases in Nov. 2018, compared to 1,472 in Nov. 2019. The state averaged about 5,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases before June of last year but, since June, the average is 2,487.
Travis County has only prosecuted four misdemeanor cases since hemp was legalized.
The hemp law also had an impact in Williamson County, which filed just five cases from Aug. 2019 to Nov. 2019, compared to 150 in Feb. 2019, before hemp was legalized.
But in Hays County, where the district attorney has continued to accept marijuana cases under the new hemp law change, numbers have not gone down. While Travis County and Williamson County had no cases filed in Nov. 2019, there were 44 misdemeanor marijuana cases that month in Hays County alone, up from 37 in Nov. 2018.
Austin’s police chief on Friday said low-level marijuana enforcement has never been a priority for his department. But he reminded people marijuana is still illegal and police will continue to enforce the law.
Austin has until May 1 to update its guidelines and to train officers to stop arresting or issuing citations for minor marijuana charges.
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