Austinites are voting overwhelmingly in favor of a ballot measure that would prevent the city’s police officers from enforcing laws against possessing small amounts of marijuana or from entering a property unannounced using no-knock warrants.
As of shortly before pm on Saturday, Travis County’s updated count showed Proposition A — which removes police discretion by cementing these two policies into law — had received 46,796 votes in favor, or 85.4%, while 8.022 voted against it, or 14.6%.
Prop A was Austin’s lone proposition on the Saturday ballot and generated limited buzz ahead of the vote. Following hotly contested fights in Austin elections on homeless camping in May 2020 and police officer hires last November, Prop A did not even yield an opposition campaign.
With the passage of Prop A, the city’s police officers will no longer be allowed to make an arrest or issue a citation for possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana, with two exceptions: if the judgment or citation is part of an investigation into a high -priority narcotics case or into a violent felony.
Otherwise, the most police officers will be allowed to do is seize the drugs.
The proposition’s passage by voters codifies into law the policy the Austin City Council recommended to the Austin Police Department in early 2020 after Gov. Greg Abbott the year before signed a law that made it all but impossible to distinguish narcotic marijuana from legal hemp. In July 2020, then-Police Chief Brian Manley announced that officers would no longer cite or arrest people for having small amounts of pot.
On the no-knock warrants issue, passage of Prop A stipulates that police officers investigating a crime can still enter a residence with a signed warrant, but only after they’ve announced their presence and waited at least 15 seconds.
The use of no-knock warrants became the focus of a national conversation in 2020 after Breonna Taylor was killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police officers in a botched raid of her apartment. Later that year, the Austin City Council limited police use of a no-knock warrant to only when officer safety is an issue and after receiving approval from a commander and a judge.
Austin police officers execute a no-knock warrant only three or four times a year and only when confronting a suspect they believe to be dangerous, according to Ken Casaday, who heads the Austin Police Association labor union.
The police union was neutral on the proposal’s marijuana-related language but opposed the elimination of no-knock warrants. Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told the American-Statesman he was not taking a public position on Prop A.
The organization behind the proposition, Ground Game Texas, is led by two past congressional candidates: Julie Oliver, the Democratic nominee in House District 25 in 2018 and 2020, and Mike Siegel, the Democratic nominee in House District 10 in those same years.
Siegel, the political director of Ground Game Texas, said the organization was pleased with the results.
“It looks like Prop A is passing with an enormous mandate from Austin voters,” Seigal said. “We hope that sends a message to state leaders that issues like marijuana reform and stopping no-knock warrants are extremely popular among voters and we need to get this done statewide.”
Casaday, president of the Austin Police Association labor union, said he was not overly concerned with the measure passing.
“This was really a feel-good deal for the people that were behind Prop A but we don’t believe it really affects anything,” Casaday said.
Casaday said the union did not “get involved in the marijuana debate,” and that it believes federal law will cover the no-knock warrant aspect of the proposition.
“We don’t believe that will affect us. The city of Austin cannot tell the police chief how to run his department when it comes to safety and we fully expect to continue to do search warrants even though we only do maybe two or three a year. I don’t think this will affect anything,” he said. “As far as the marijuana goes, we’ve pretty much had a hands-off policy for the last two or three years.”
Once it officially passes, the effective date for Prop A will be the date of the canvass of the election. The deadline to conduct the canvases is May 18.
Saturday’s vote was the final city election before the November election, when the mayor and five City Council districts will be in play.