Voters in Austin approved Proposition A, which is meant to decriminalize low-level marijuana possession and place a ban on no-knock warrants.
More than 30,000 signatures were collected to support the ordinance on the citywide ballot.
The proposal was placed on the ballot after the Austin City Council approved the charter-amending legislation in January, and 86% favored the ordinance.
Possession of more than 4 ounces of marijuana is a felony in Texas. Anything less is a misdemeanor and is divided into two classes.
Possession of 2 to 4 ounces of marijuana is considered a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a possible sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $4,000. If a person is found to be in possession of fewer than 2 ounces, it is considered a Class B misdemeanor, resulting in a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and up to a maximum fine of $2,000.
The new rule directs Austin police to make arrests or issue citations only in “a felony-level narcotics case that has been specified as a high priority investigation by an Austin police commander, assistant chief of police, or chief of police.”
In addition, it ends the practice of charging someone with a Class C misdemeanor for “possession of drug residue or drug paraphernalia … in lieu of a possession of marijuana charge.”
“If an Austin police officer has probable cause to believe that a substance is marijuana, an officer may seize the marijuana,” the ordinance adds. “If the officer seizes the marijuana, they must write a detailed report and release the individual if possession of marijuana is the sole charge.”
The ordinance also prohibits police from using no-knock warrants.
It states that “no Austin police officer may request, execute, or participate in the execution of any search warrant that does not require the officer to knock and announce their presence and wait at least 15 seconds before execution.”
Chief Joseph Chacon of the Austin Police Department stated he would follow the people’s “will” and prohibit his officers from using no-knock warrants.
“I think the will of the voters has kind of spoken on this and how, as a community, they feel the police department should be handling this,” said Chacon to KUT. “My plan is to implement what the city ordinance says into policy and to fully restrict their use.”
However, the Austin Police Association president, Ken Casady, believes the ordinance will change very little.
“The [Austin Police Department policy] for low-level marijuana changed well over a year ago, so Prop A doesn’t really change anything,” said Ken Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association. “As for ‘No knock Warrants,’ when lives are on the line, I’m sure APD will continue to use ‘No Knocks.’”