For Texan marijuana users, the 2019 legislative efforts to decriminalize low-level marijuana crimes made possession of an ounce or less a civil—rather than a criminal—offense. Recent legislation in Austin further protects nonfelony marijuana users. There are some misconceptions about what this means for marijuana users and those caught with possession in Austin. It is important to understand what this legislation does and does not do.
Last month, Austin City Council passed Resolution No. 20200123-059, resolving to suspend resource-intensive investigation and prosecution of nonfelony marijuana crimes. The resolution states that the city will no longer allocate funds to determine whether a substance in question contains THC. The city manager will work to avoid any arrests or investigations when lab testing would be a requirement.
This resolution does not legalize or fully decriminalize marijuana. The Austin Police Chief has made clear in statements to the Texas Tribune that the Austin Police Department will still ticket and process those caught with possession of marijuana according to state and local law. The difference in previous possession cases is that those tickets will now be “cite and release” tickets, unenforced by local authorities.
The City of Austin will work to avoid arrest or other enforcement action in cases involving nonfelony marijuana possession. However, the resolution explicitly exempts felony-level marijuana, drug trafficking and violent felony offenses. Additionally, any lab testing performed prior to this resolution or in noncity facilities is admissible in Austin courts. Those arrested by authorities other than Austin city police are still subject to Texas law and any relevant local laws.