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I want users to be able to publish content without having to associate it with a specific taxonomy term. They only have access to taxonomy tags.

I would like to be able to assign content to categories (taxonomy vocabulary/terms) on the backend as an admin or let another role have permission to do that.

Basically on a given content type, i don't authors to see the taxonomy term reference field when adding/editing a node

How should I go about this ?

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There is more than one module for dealing with Taxonomy permissions. Some work on Vocabulary basis, others deal with terms directly. Search the modules, test them out and find out which ones suit your needs: Search Taxonomy Content Access Control for Drupal 8

In your case it may be appropriate to use the Field Permissions module.

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Limit access to a taxonomy reference field to users with a certain role: Field Permissions module or custom code

Set a permission for the field and limit access to whatever role you want. (Give "edit" permission to the admin, but "view" permission to everyone.) Then users who do not have the role won't see the field for editing, although they will still be able to see the tags on the node itself.

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