Hemp legalization caused confusion among police and prosecutors, who have instead adopted a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach.
The Austin Police Department will no longer cite or arrest people for small possessions of cannabis, Police Chief Brian Manley wrote in a July memo. The announcement essentially decriminalized marijuana possession in the city, but data shows cannabis arrests were already trending downward statewide before the announcement.
Cannabis possession arrests declined 30% between 2018 and 2019, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Around 63,000 cannabis arrests were prosecuted by the state in 2018. That figure dropped to 45,000 possession arrests in 2019 while actual prosecutions declined by over half.
These decline is associated with hemp legalization in Texas. THC-rich marijuana remains illegal in the state, but the similarity between the plants have caused confusion among state police. That’s because Texas law technically defines marijuana as any cannabis plant above 0.3% THC.
That caused a stack of dominoes to fall that lawmakers did not intend. Back in February, Texas crime labs announced they would stop testing suspected cannabis in low-level possession cases. Accordingly, state prosecutors began dismissing possession cases without lab reports that proved THC was present in the cannabis.
Since hemp legalization, cannabis manufacturing arrests also dropped from around 2,700 in 2018 to 1,900 in 2019.
Austin isn’t the only city to enact major policy changes around cannabis possession. Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and El Paso have some version of a cite-and-release program. Cannabis is still illegal, but offenders will receive a citation ticket instead of an arrest if caught in possession.
“Local law enforcement, led by district and county attorneys, have made a big (and long overdue) shift away from the traditional ‘Tough on Crime’ mentality,” Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment. “Instead, we’re adopting a ‘Smart on Crime’ approach, focusing on real threats rather than arresting and prosecuting those who use marijuana.
“Now it’s time to change state law and stop all arrests for marijuana possession in Texas.”