Austin Voters Approve Measure to Decriminalize Pot

Police officers in Austin, Texas will no longer issue citations for most cannabis possession misdemeanors.

Voters in Austin, Texas over the weekend approved a ballot proposition that decriminalized cannabis and prohibited the practice of “no-knock warrants” by police. 

A little more than 85% of voters on Saturday approved Proposition A, according to local television station KXAN, which said that the measure will “formalize a city policy put in place in 2020, when then-police chief Brian Manley announced his officers would no longer cite or arrest those accused of misdemeanor pot offenses.” That change in policy came as a result of a unanimous vote by the Austin City Council at the time, KXAN reported. 

Per local TV station KVUE, the measure does not legalize cannabis in Austin, but “ultimately forbids police officers from ticketing and arresting people on low-level marijuana offenses, like possession of small amounts of weed or related paraphernalia, unless tied to a more severe crime.” Additionally, the city “would also not pay to test substances suspected to be marijuana, which is an important step in substantiating drug charges,” according to the station. 

Under the newly passed ordinance, cops in Austin “will not be allowed to issue citations for most Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession offenses,” according to KVUE.

“In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is possession of 4 ounces or less but more than 2 ounces. A Class B misdemeanor is possession of 2 ounces or less,” according to the station, which said the ordinance takes effect immediately. 

The ordinance, as written, says that Austin police officers will only be permitted to issue citations or make arrests for such Class A or B misdemeanors if it is part of “the investigation of a felony level narcotics case that has been designated as a high priority investigation by an Austin police commander, assistant chief of police, or chief of police,” or if it is part of an investigation of a violent felony.

The new local ordinance is the result of efforts by a group called Ground Game Texas, which led the campaign to get Proposition A on the Austin ballot this year. 

In January, the Austin City Council approved the ballot proposal for the city’s special election that was held on May 7. 

Ground Game Texas collected more than 33,000 signatures––well above the necessary threshold of 20,000 signatures––from Austin voters in order for the measure to qualify for the special election ballot. 

The group celebrated Saturday’s resounding victory, saying that it serves as evidence that voters in the Lone Star State are ready for cannabis reform.

“This lays down an extremely clear marker for the rest of Texas that one, this is something that’s possible. That a city can decide to end marijuana enforcement,” said Ground Game Texas co-founder Mike Siegel, as quoted by Texas public radio station KUT. “And two, that it’s extremely popular.”

The station reported that Ground Game Texas is currently “working on similar ballot items in other Central Texas cities, including San Marcos and Elgin.”

Medical cannabis is legal in Texas, but recreational pot use for adults is not. 

Last year, Republican Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into law that expanded the number of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis treatment in the state.

Abbott is up for re-election this year, and there are signs that cannabis legalization could emerge as a major issue in the campaign. The incumbent’s Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke, has repeatedly voiced his support for ending the prohibition on pot throughout the race.

“Legalizing marijuana is the right thing to do. We can stop locking Texans up for a substance that’s legal in much of the rest of the country and allow police to focus on violent crime. And it’ll bring in nearly $1 billion a year in new state revenue and taxpayer savings,” O’Rourke said on Twitter in January.

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