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Austin police will no longer cite or arrest people for possessing small amounts of marijuana

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An Austin police officer pulls over a vehicle on August 28, 2017. Austin Price / The Texas Tribune

The Austin Police Department will no longer cite and arrest people solely for possessing a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, according to a Thursday police memo.

“APD will no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses, unless there is an immediate threat to a person’s safety or doing so as part of the investigation of a high priority, felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony,” Police Chief Brian Manley wrote in a memo to the Austin mayor and city council.

The move comes more than a year after the Texas Legislature legalized hemp and, in the process, complicated marijuana prosecutions across the state.

Under the new law, the definition of marijuana was was narrowed from cannabis plants to cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC, the psychoactive ingredient in the plant. The distinction caused numerous prosecutors to drop hundreds of marijuana cases and stopped accepting new ones, arguing they could not tell the difference between the two without unavailable lab testing.

The number of new marijuana cases filed by prosecutors in the state dropped by more than half in six months.

In January, the Austin City Council approved a resolution to stop arresting or ticketing people for most low-level marijuana possession offenses. The next day, Manley said that marijuana was still illegal and he would continue to enforce the law, though the council banned the department from using city funds to conduct lab testing the county prosecutor required.

At the time, Manley said though cracking down on those possessing a small amount of marijuana was never a priority, police would continue to cite or arrest people if officers “come across it.”

But on Thursday, that policy was changed.

“After reviewing the current protocols for handling marijuana cases at all of the relevant County and District Courts and Attorney Offices and/or conferring with representatives from those respective entities, APD has revised our marijuana-enforcement polices[sic] to comply with Council’s resolution and align with present practices within the local judicial system,” Manley wrote in the memo.