The Dallas city council approved a pilot program that would “cite-and-release” people caught in possession of marijuana, rather than sending them to jail. The city council voted 10-5 in favor of the program, and it goes into effect October 2017.
“We have the absolute duty to define how we spend our limited public safety resources,”
said Council member Phillip Kingston, who has been pursuing efforts to decriminalize marijuana for years. People caught in possession of four ounces of marijuana or less, and aren’t found to be committing other crimes, would be issued a ticket. Those caught in possession are not protected by this pilot program for another six months.
Local law enforcement is critical of the new rules. “When we’re talking four ounces. Two ounces is a handful, a large handful. We’re talking two large handfuls of marijuana,” said Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata.
“That’s not someone, you know, with personal consumption at the time. No that’s somebody who could easily break that up and sell to other individuals.”
While this sentiment is shared by other law enforcement agencies across the country, the result of strict penalties for marijuana possession means mass incarceration.
Texas has a particularly high arrest rate for marijuana possession. In 2010, the Lone Star State had the second highest rate in the country for people arrested for marijuana possession, with 74,000 arrests being made. 97 percent of marijuana convictions are for possession. There are racial implications as well. While African Americans make up 12 percent of the population, they account for 25 percent of all marijuana possession arrests.
Such strong penalties in a country where 1 in 5 citizens now have access to legal marijuana means billions of dollars spent on enforcement at the federal level, as well as financial burdens on local governments. But even deescalating the penalties for marijuana has its drawbacks.
“The problem with cite and release is this, if somebody doesn’t show up to court it shifts the burden of getting them to court to the sheriff’s office or the DA’s office.”
said Attorney Pete Schulte to FOX4’s Good Day, noting that the city council needs to work with law enforcement and the justice system to keep costs down. Schulte notes the new plan would still consider marijuana possession a Class B misdemeanor, which is the same as a first-time DWI. Police would release offenders on a personal recognizance bond, instructing them to appear in county court at a later date.
Elsewhere, local governments have chosen to categorized marijuana possession more like a speeding ticket, which is typically a Class C misdemeanor. Schulte supports this classification. “It keeps it in the city. The money stays in the city and everything is handled by municipal court.”