Austin Just Says No to Weed Busts, No-Knock

City Council made both policy in 2020, now voters codify them as law


Photo by Kimberley Jones

Austin voters sent a resounding message to the Austin Police Department on May 7: People should not be arrested or cited for possessing small amounts of marijuana, nor should they be subjected to no-knock search warrants.

In Travis County, where the bulk of Austin voters live, the citizen initiative, on the ballot as Proposition A, passed with nearly 86% of the vote. In the Williamson County portion of Austin, 77.6% of voters supported the measure. With no organized opposition to the ordinance, and Prop A being the only item on the Austin city ballot, turnout was a modest 8% of Austin's registered voters, or around 68,000 people.

What this means going forward: People in Austin cannot be arrested or cited for possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana – excluding specific circumstances where the possession charge is believed to be related to a high-level narcotics investigation or a violent felony. Most possession cases currently aren't being prosecuted in Travis County as it is, but APD has had discretion to make arrests and issue citations until now. The police still have the ability, and obligation, to seize any cannabis found during a search – they just can't charge the subject with a crime.

Though APD has mostly abandoned no-knock warrants, as City Council asked the department to do so in 2020, the department likewise has been able to seek and to execute them; before the 2020 Council action, these had at times led to unnecessary bloodshed and property destruction. The local ordinance will not constrain federal law enforcement agencies, so if APD partners on an investigation with the feds, one of those agencies could request and execute a no-knock warrant if they felt it necessary.

The election landslide marks the first major victory for Ground Game Texas, the progressive organizing project that gathered petition signatures to get Prop A on the ballot. "I want to stress that this *would not have happened* if volunteers working in an 'off year' hadn't grabbed clipboards and hit the pavement to gather the 20,000 signatures it took to put this up for a vote," GGTX co-founder Julie Oliver wrote in a May 9 tweet. The organization is also working on decriminalization campaigns in four other Texas cities, including Killeen and Harker Heights, where the path to victory will not be quite so smooth.

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