Mart begins crackdown on marijuana possession
A city of about 2,000 residents just outside of Waco has decided to get more aggressive when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws.
First reported by Kristin Hoppa with Waco Tribune-Herald, Mart police say that they will now arrest people for any amount of marijuana. Previously they had issued court summons for small amounts, which carried the same penalty while keeping officers out on the street rather than at the jail doing paperwork. Mart Police Chief Paul Cardenas says that people aren’t paying their fines, which ultimately turn into warrants, and that is part of the reason for the change.
“I don’t think this is a problem isolated the city of Mart, but what I decided we are going to do is take a hard stand,” Cardenas told the Trib. “At this point, right now, that is the only stand I can take.”
He continued, “Suspects know that if they carry 2 ounces or less, they will tell you to ‘go ahead and write me a ticket.’ When you are in charge of the public safety of your community, that changes your mind, and we can’t have that attitude in our city.”
In 2007 the state legislature passed a law which allows law enforcement officials to issue court summons for low level drug crimes instead of arresting them. Several larger cities around the state have opted to do this in order to control costs and limit the strain on public resources. Offenders are still subject to the full penalty of the law even when they are not arrested however.
“Marijuana use has grown in any city, and I am not going to say Mart doesn’t have a problem with this issue,” Cardenas said. “I do, however, want to bring it to the forefront and let the community know that this will not be tolerated in our community.”
“Obviously issuing tickets is not working when people are not paying the fines,” he said. “I want to take a more proactive approach because I have had people dictate to me that I should issue citations, but we have laws on the books that say how to enforce the law.”
Cardenas said his experience in the military and working with the Drug Enforcement Administration has impacted his drive to keep drugs out of Mart. Mart Mayor Pro Tem Henry Witt III said Mart police have the support of the city behind them in the new policy.
“I don’t think that what we are faced with from a drug standpoint is unique to the city of Mart, but I do think our approach to combating it is going to be a little more aggressive,” Witt said. “I think what this will do is send a message to the people who are bringing drugs into our town and let them know that we will not tolerate bringing drugs into our community.”
According to Hoppa, several other cities in McLennan County also make arrests for small amounts of marijuana, including Waco, Bellmead, and Lacy Lakeview.
“(Marijuana possession) is illegal, and until the state law changes, we are going to enforce the state law,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. “If it is a usable amount up to 2 ounces, it is a Class B misdemeanor, and we will put you in jail on a Class B misdemeanor.”
Other small cities in the area, including Lorena and Hewitt, say it’s up to the officer’s discretion and depends on the circumstances of the offense.
“We can take anyone to jail for any usable amounts of marijuana, but we try to just use common sense and our best judgement in making those decisions,” Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said. “One of those decisions is to try to help keep beds free for higher status offenses at the county jail, but every city is different and every city faces different issues.”
Under Texas law, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor which carries a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine while possession of between 2 and 4 ounces is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a year in jail and $4,000 fine. Any marijuana infraction, no matter the circumstances, also results in the automatic loss of drivers license for six months, even if there is no vehicle involved.