This Texas law unintentionally caused cannabis arrests to drop in the state

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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 weed possession in the city, but data shows that marijuana arrests were already trending downward statewide.

Cannabis possession arrests declined 30 per cent between 2018 and 2019, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Although about 63,000 cannabis arrests were prosecuted by the state in 2018, that figure dropped to 45,000 possession arrests in 2019 and actual prosecutions declined by more than half.

These declines are associated with hemp legalization in Texas. THC-rich cannabis 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 per cent THC.

That caused the 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 about 2,700 in 2018 to 1,900 in 2019.

Since hemp legalization, cannabis manufacturing arrests also dropped from about 2,700 in 2018 to 1,900 in 2019. / Photo: jessicahyde / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Photo: jessicahyde / iStock / Getty Images Plus

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 found possessing cannabis will receive a citation ticket instead of an arrest.

“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,” Fazio said. “Now it’s time to change state law and stop all arrests for marijuana possession in Texas.”

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