AUSTIN, Texas — Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Austin City Council Member Greg Casar are recommending the discussion of THC testing and marijuana enforcement by the Austin Police Department after the recently signed law that legalizes hemp in Texas.
"We're asking for some discussion on APD's arresting and giving tickets for levels of marijuana," said Garza, "
After the last Texas Legislative Session, a new state law was signed, legalizing hemp. Hemp is the relative of marijuana with low levels of THC. Marijuana is still illegal in Texas.
In the message by the council members, it reads, "To make prosecution of these low-level possession misdemeanors possible under the new law, the City is considering purchasing expensive testing equipment and investing staff time in developing protocols and gaining accreditation for testing. We have serious concerns about the use of scarce taxpayer funds for these purposes."
County and District Attorneys are under pressure from Texas leaders to enforce the law and test for the difference between hemp and marijuana after county and district attorneys said they would drop or not pursue prosecution on specific marijuana possession cases.
“It doesn’t seem like it should be a priority of our police officers to be arresting or ticketing for an offense that is not going to prosecuted," said Garza.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore told KVUE back in July that testing for the difference can get expensive.
"So the law enforcement agencies would have to incur the additional expense of getting private testing done," said Moore. "And this office would have to incur the additional expenses of having that private lab come and testify in our cases, which is often much more than the actual testing. So we need to consult before we file a case to see if it merits that additional expenditure of public money that nobody has budgeted for."
Mayor Pro Tem Garza has questions about whether or not taxpayer money should be used on testing equipment, as well as questions over on how low-level marijuana-related crimes are handled.
"Could that money or could that time of our officers be better spent investigating different things? Investigating violent crime?" said Garza, "It’s to get those answers – how much resources are we spending and citing on arresting an individual for small levels of marijuana possession?”
The communications director for the Travis County Republicans, Andy Hogue, said testing is needed.
"In order to enforce the law as passed in the 86th Legislature, they're going to need these field tests and yes they do come with a price," said Hogue. "Going into it, they're talking about the high price tag and, compared to what we spend in the city of Austin and in Travis County, it's piecemeal. So that tells me that they're more interested in decriminalization effectively."
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