Law enforcement officials in Dallas, Texas are adopting a new program with a name that might resonate with anglers in the Lone Star state, even though it has nothing to do with fishing. Instead, Dallas’ new plan aims to help first-time marijuana offenders off the hook. Elsewhere, in El Paso, city representatives are looking to reduce penalties for first-time misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Are these programs signs that Texas cities are making headway on marijuana reform?
“Cite And Release” Gets Petty Pot Offenders Off The Hook in Dallas
On Friday, December 1, Dallas will implement a program called “cite and release.” The program aims to eliminate the immediate consequences for anyone caught in possession of a misdemeanor quantity of cannabis.
In Texas, cannabis possession of up to four ounces is considered a misdemeanor offense. Possession under two ounces carries a penalty of 180 days incarceration and a $2,000 fine. Quantities between two and four ounces carry a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Currently, police officers in Dallas arrest anyone caught with weed on the spot, and suspects are taken into custody.
However, as the name suggests, the “cite and release” program forgoes the arrest. Instead, police officers issue a citation and release the suspect.
But it’s crucial to understand that the citation isn’t a simple “weed ticket.”
In other words, you don’t just pay a fine and move on, which is how it works in states which have decriminalized misdemeanor cannabis possession.
Instead, the citation is a court summons. It requires the suspect to appear before a judge, where the case proceeds as usual.
Dallas District Attorney Faith Johnson explains: “This is not legalizing marijuana. The only thing cite and release does is to simply not arrest the suspect on the spot.”
The summons will give suspects roughly two to three weeks before they must appear in court.
Interestingly, the cite and release bill became law in 2007, but cities have not implemented it until now.
El Paso’s First Chance Program Forgives First-Time Offenders
Another initiative signaling that Texas cities are making headway on marijuana reform is currently under debate in El Paso.
The First Chance Program aims to reduce the penalties for first-time misdemeanor marijuana offenses.
In lieu of jail time and criminal charges, the program would allow first-time offenders to complete eight hours of community service and pay a reduced fine.
Two El Paso city representatives, Cassandra Hernandez-Brown and Alexsandra Annello, placed the First Chance Program on the agenda of Tuesday’s city council meeting. But other city council members are hesitant to adopt the program.
One city representative, Henry Rivera, has doubts stemming from his time as a police officer.
“If they are adults, which we are really concerned with, they should already know what is right and wrong,” Rivera said. “State law is state law. No one has rewritten the law to say marijuana is legal just yet.”
But the program is hardly amnesty for first-time marijuana offenders, its advocates explain. District Attorney Jaime Esparza planned to make a presentation to the council to explain how the program actually works.
Furthermore, advocates for the First Chance Program say it could help free up resources for an already under-funded and under-staffed police department in El Paso.
“If we can allocate our police officers to focus on high priority calls, it would mean that we would have better response times,” Hernandez-Brown said.
City council members planned to discuss the future of the First Chance Program at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Some Texas Cities Are Making Headway On Marijuana Reform, But Will Others Follow?
Heading into December, Texas’ fledgling medical marijuana program is finally getting its legs under it. A couple of dispensaries have received approval, with one more in the pipeline. And patients suffering from intractable epilepsy will soon be able to order and receive medical cannabis.
Still, there are several shortcomings to the medical marijuana program, as critics have pointed out. But as Texas begins to gain some progressive momentum with its medical marijuana policy, its harsh criminalization of cannabis possession is gaining some overdue attention.
So while it might not be much, for now, some Texas cities are making headway on marijuana reform, like Dallas and El Paso.