Council, Community Urge APD to Halt Marijuana Arrests

September 5, 2019
Austin Chronicle

On Tuesday afternoon (Sept. 3), Austin Police Depart­ment Assistant Chief Troy Gay had the displeasure of being the guy who had to tell everyone in a room packed with citizens, community leaders, and members of City Council's Judicial Committee exactly what they didn't want to hear: "Marijuana is still illegal under both state and federal law."

The veteran cop plainly and courteously laid out the department's stance: "APD has not increased our enforcement efforts, but we continue to cite-and-release and/or arrest as deemed necessary." The discussion of an item first outlined two weeks ago by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar waded deeply into the muddy waters of discretionary enforcement for misdemeanor pot charges.

Since July 3, when Travis County Attorney David Escamilla and District Attorney Margaret Mooreannounced that they'd reject all possession charges until law enforcement agencies could use accredited testing to discern whether confiscated cannabis is illicit marijuana or newly legal hemp, APD has continued to cite offenders and – to some degree – make arrests. Casar takes issue with that practice. "It doesn't make any sense to me to arrest someone [if] they're not going to get prosecuted," he told the Chronicle last week, emphasizing that arrests can result in serious life complications – interrupted income, getting your vehicle impounded, and potentially losing your job.

Several citizen speakers at Tuesday's meeting brought up how these impacts are not spread equally among Austin's cannabis users. "When APD makes these arrests, who are they arresting? What does the data show?" asked Annette Price, statewide director for Grassroots Leadership's Texas Advocates for Justice. "The data shows that the majority of these arrests are still people of color."