Council members push to end low-level marijuana citations and arrests with resolution

Jennifer Pumphrey remembers the day a joint in her purse changed her life.

“Before I could even say a word I was in handcuffs and being shoved in the back of a cop car," Pumphrey said.

She says police arrested her at her mom's house.

“The fact that I had a little marijuana on me, I ended up spending six weeks in jail for less than a gram of marijuana, causing me to lose my car, job, apartment, I had to drop my classes at ACC,” said Pumphrey.

She stands with city councilmember Greg Casar, who is sponsoring a resolution to end low-level marijuana citations and arrests in Austin. Members Delia Garza, Natasha Harper-Madison and Jimmy Flannigan also support the resolution.

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“What this resolution says and does is instead of dedicating additional resources in pursuing low-level marijuana cases, we no longer want to dedicate resources to doing that kind of work,” Casar said.

Last summer the state legalized hemp, which comes from the cannabis plant. The issue is the ability to test if a substance is hemp or marijuana. Council says arresting people is a waste of time, especially with no resources available to provide the proper testing.

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“Folks are getting citations now and it's up to the county system to let you know that the court date doesn't mean anything and the case isn't going to be prosecuted. However, the police department testified to the judicial committee that the police department is on the path to spending resources to get the testing capability to go back and make those cases a thing,” said Casar.

“I’m glad they took the step of legalizing hemp, but the haphazard approach has left local governments with the bill for new and expensive testing that isn't widely available,” said mayor pro-tem Delia Garza.

Casar said adopting this resolution will free up police officers and eliminate selective enforcement.

“We know that in Austin just like across the country, citations and arrests for marijuana offenses disproportionately are on folks of color,” said Casar.

Council has been in talks with Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, but until the resolution is passed, it might be hard to strike an agreement.

“He recognizes that he has his job to do and Council has Council's job to do. It's the council's job to set budgetary decisions,” said Casar.

City council will take up this item at the council meeting on Jan. 23.