Dallas County to consider summons instead of arrests for marijuana
Dallas County officials are considering launching a program which would allow officers to issue a court summons to those caught with small amounts of marijuana.
Taking advantage of the Texas Cite and Release law, officials say this move would free up police resources to go after other crimes. The law was enacted in 2007 by the state legislature.
“This is about not tying up officers and bringing them back out onto the street,” said Ron Stretcher, director of criminal justice for Dallas County.
All penalties for possession would still be the same. The only difference is instead of being arrested and taken to jail, that person would instead be given a court summons to appear for the charge. A misdemeanor for two ounces of cannabis or less carries a maximum of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. The penalty doubles for those caught with between two and four ounces.
Slated to launch as a pilot program in Dallas in mid-January, officials believe it will lead less crowded jails and more time on the streets for police.
The Dallas Morning News also reported on the possible change, noting there is still a good amount of opposition from some law enforcement and elected officials.
But in recent years, the idea has gained support, and not just from advocates of marijuana decriminalization. Some conservatives have pushed it as a way to save law enforcement dollars. It costs about $63 a day to hold an inmate in the Dallas County Jail.
Still, the new approach could meet with resistance. Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston said he’d rather see the Texas Legislature address possible changes to the marijuana statutes. Police officers, he said, should focus on enforcing the laws that are on the books.
“Our job is to provide customer service to the citizens of Dallas, and they expect me to make an arrest,” Pinkston said.
Dallas Police Chief David Brown did not return a message seeking comment on the proposal.
Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins declined to comment, saying through his spokeswoman that details need to be worked out before he’ll discuss it publicly.
Travis County has also been known to make use of the Cite and Release law, but that’s changing as more join in with policy changes.
Earlier this week the Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced her plan to no longer jail first time offenders for small amounts of marijuana in the Houston area. Her opponent in the general election this year, Kim Ogg, has gone even further by including those who already have a misdemeanor charge on their record, increasing the amounts which qualify people for the program, and requiring only community service instead of drug classes.
Dallas is also set to have a marijuana protest march happen on October 18, sponsored by the non-profit organization DFW NORML.
Earlier this year the group held a protest march in downtown Fort Worth which attracted over 2,000 attendees.