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Council members say no to testing marijuana

Tuesday, January 21, 2020 by Jo Clifton

Council Members Greg Casar, Natasha Harper-Madison, Jimmy Flannigan and Delia Garza are holding a press conference this morning to explain why they are sponsoring a resolution to prevent the Austin Police Department from testing small amounts of green leafy substances to find out whether they contain sufficient levels of THC to qualify as marijuana. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed a bill legalizing and regulating hemp, making testing of alleged marijuana so expensive and time-consuming that prosecutors in Travis and Williamson counties, among others, stopped prosecuting all new misdemeanor possession cases. According to data supplied by Casar’s office, APD officers arrested only eight people for possession of marijuana between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2019. All of those cases involved class A or B misdemeanor amounts, and according to the notations on the quarterly report, most of the arrests involved situations in which the officer cited a reasonable likelihood of imminent danger to someone. Of the eight people arrested, four were black, three Hispanic and one white. Two other Hispanic people were arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, a class C misdemeanor. It is well known nationwide that persons of color are more frequently arrested for possession of marijuana than are white people. The resolution would find that the Council does not want any city funds or personnel devoted to testing of THC concentrations except in the cases of “high priority felony level cannabis-related trafficking offenses.” Under the resolution, the city manager would be directed to take steps to eliminate use of arrests for cannabis-related possession except in cases where there is a threat to someone’s safety. From the quarterly report, it appears that that might already be the case. However, this resolution would make that informal policy formal. For the past two to three years, Travis County Attorney David Escamilla has run a pretrial diversion program for people not arrested, but cited and released, for possession of small quantities of marijuana. Under that program, Escamilla said, all the person had to do was show up in court, show proof they watched a video on the subject, and the case would be dismissed. Now, Escamilla said, people who are cited and released show up to see Justice of the Peace Nick Chu and he informs them that the case is dismissed.

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