When Texas legalized hemp last year, it threw the state’s marijuana policing into some kind of chaos. All of a sudden, officers were largely left without proper testing technology to determine if suspects’ leafy greens possessed a THC percentage above the legal cutoff of 0.3 percent. As a result, law enforcement authorities across the state began to throw up their hands and throw out low-level possession cases.
In the state’s capital, that trending away from marijuana possession policing may soon be turned into official policy. Austin City Council member Greg Casar has filed a draft resolution that would prohibit city cops from using government money to test for THC percentages.
The plan would also instruct the police department to deprioritize cannabis misdemeanor cases unless there is a safety threat involved.
“Frankly, we’re trying to maintain what’s happening right now, which is that [marijuana] citations are going nowhere,” Casar told the Texas Observer. “Why would we go back to a world where these citations go somewhere?”
In addition to the resources needed for THC testing procedures, the city has long struggled with the racially biased nature of its cannabis policing. Nearly half of all marijuana possession citations issued by the Austin police in 2019 went to Latino residents, who make up only 34.3 percent of the city’s population according to the most recent Census numbers.
Between the passage of the hemp law on June 10th of last year and September, the Travis County attorney’s office declined to move forward on some 170 marijuana-related charges, a “cite and release” policy that echoes state-wide trends.
The Austin Police Department reportedly does have one machine that is capable of testing cannabis THC levels. But city politicians have already voiced concerns over additional taxpayer dollars being spent on marijuana testing and policing in general.
Travis County Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu told a local news site last fall that he did not believe that officers’ time was best spent pursuing marijuana offenders.
“If you look at the whole reason behind the cite-and-release process to begin with … it was created so law enforcement wouldn’t be wasting their time on low-level nonviolent misdemeanor offenses,” he said. “And also wasting people’s time in terms of worrying about these cases when law enforcement can be focused on more important, serious violent offenses.”
The Future of Cannabis in Texas
Perhaps the most pertinent question is, why hasn’t Texas pulled the trigger on marijuana legalization altogether?
In fact, even the state’s Republican Party has had decriminalization in its platform since 2018, when delegates also overwhelmingly voted to support removing cannabis from a Schedule I designation at the federal level.
But during last year’s push for Democrat Representative Joe Moody’s decriminalization measure, policymakers were exposed to some very misleading presentations by law enforcement officials.
“Not all marijuana smokers become drug addicts, but all drug addicts — especially in Plano we have a lot of drug addicts — have started with marijuana,” said Plano Police Sergeant Terence Holway while testifying for the state’s House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. In the past, the Texas Sheriffs’ Association has published papers suggesting that marijuana leads to lower IQs and increased chance of developing schizophrenia. (Cannabis consumption and schizophrenia have been shown to be correlated, but there is no established proof that one causes the other.)