Following the passage last Thursday of Austin City Council’s resolution to effectually decriminalize cannabis, Police Chief Brian Manley pledged to ignore them.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Manley addressed news reporters. “We will still enforce marijuana law if we come across people smoking in the community,” the police chief said.
While he admitted the police department never prioritized targeting cannabis use in the community, he said citations and even arrests will continue. Austin’s policy of “cite and release” already seeks to limit excessive penalties for cannabis use. While Manley adheres to that policy, it appears he’s chosen to ignore further measures.
On why he believed in continued enforcement, he said, “A City Council does not have the authority to tell a police department not to enforce a state law.”
City Councilmember Greg Casar, the resolution sponsor, undermines the pledge of the police chief. “Enforcement, almost in virtually all cases, is now handing someone a piece of paper with no penalty or no court date,” he said. In essence, the police chief may cite and arrest all he likes, but the city and its prosecutors refuse to pursue those fines and charges.
A citation amounts to a meaningless slip of paper. Furthermore, release promptly follows arrest.
Police Chief Thwarted
The Council resolution follows a new statewide law changing the definition of “marijuana” to cannabis with THC content exceeding 0.3 percent. Because hemp, now legalized in the state of Texas, contains trace amounts of THC, prosecutors must prove by extensive testing a substance is cannabis and not legal hemp.
However, the state lacks adequate means to test THC content. Therefore, most Texas prosecutors drop cannabis charges in the wake of the statewide legislation.
The Austin City Council resolution only makes explicit the implicit decriminalization at the state level.
Police Chief Brian Manley, however, commits to fruitless enforcement as the conservative state slowly joins the ranks of those rethinking cannabis policy.