July 3, 2020

Decriminalization in Austin and Nashville Stops Prosecuting

July 3, 2020
Cannabis legalization

Cannabis-related arrests will only be made if there is an immediate safety threat or if it’s part of a separate felony-level investigation, according to a memo published by the Austin Police Department (APD) on July 2, 2020.

“APD will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony,” wrote Austin’s police Chief Brian Manley in a memo to the city’s mayor and council.

The move comes six months after the Austin police force explicitly announced that it would continue to arrest and jail people on minor weed charges, despite new laws that went into effect in 2019.

Since that time, when the state legalized hemp and, in the process, complicated marijuana prosecutions, confusion reigned over how much THC was in the offending flower possessed by the arrested person.

As a result, numerous prosecutors had taken to dropping hundreds of marijuana cases and stopped accepting new ones, arguing that they could not tell the difference between weed and hemp without lab testing it.

With the new policy change, officers who suspect someone possesses a misdemeanor amount of marijuana are instructed to seize the substance, write a report and then release the person with no pending charges.

Jax Finkel, executive director for Texas NORML, called the decision an important step for Austin. 

“I’m excited this has finally happened. I think it probably could have happened back in January and it has been delayed some. But I’m very happy that even if it’s a bit late, it’s happening,” Finkel said.

Cannabis Legalization in Austin

One Austin council member said the move was positive but that Texas should totally legalize marijuana and confront the challenge of transforming the criminal justice system.

“There’s been a disproportionate impact on less privileged communities, communities of color, and the fact of the matter is Austin should be a place that is more forward-thinking,” Greg Casar told KVUE.

Marijuana Possession in Nashville

The Nashville District Attorney’s office announced that it will no longer prosecute marijuana possession charges for less than half an ounce. 

“Marijuana charges do little to promote public health, and even less to promote public safety,” the DA’s office said in a statement, pointing out that low-level marijuana charges disproportionately impact minorities.

In Nashville, Blacks made up at least 64% of the arrests in each year since 2014 for simple possession of marijuana, while white people have at most made up 36% in a given year. 


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