Dallas city officials called for a change in policy, introducing plans to “cite-and-release” when citizens are found with marijuana.
Such a change would mean possession of up to four ounces of marijuana would come with a ticket, not jail time, and could be settled in a court, much like a traffic ticket. Offenders could still be saddled with up to $2000 in fines and up to 180 days in jail, but officers would be instructed not to arrest the person.
Under current policy, when an individual is found with marijuana the arresting officer must call in his or her supervisor to monitor the drug test. Following the test, the individual is usually arrested and taken to jail.
Deputy Chief Gary Tittle says the process can take an hour or more, depending on how far the supervising officer must drive to get there. It has many people arguing that such policies are a waste of valuable resources, and officers are better used responding to 911 calls.
The Dallas police arrest about 120 people every month for low-level pot possession, adding up to 1200 misdemeanor arrests every year. Tittle argues that by allowing officers to cite-and-release, it could shave 30 minutes off of every incident, freeing up officers to respond to more pressing issues sooner.
Councilman Philip Kingston was supportive of the idea, adding that current policies disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities – giving otherwise law-abiding citizens unnecessary criminal records.
It is a feeling echoed by Dallas County Criminal Justice Department Director Ron Stretcher echoes, pointing to studies that show spending even a day in jail has hugely detrimental effects on a person, and that jobs and lives can be hugely effected.
Like many other cities across the nation, Dallas also faces overcrowding in jails, arresting around 50,000 people a year with only 5,000 jail beds.
As Dallas Police Chief David Brown put it, “It’s just so damn practical.”
Opponents argue that it could hurt crime-fighting efforts around the city; officers often use marijuana possession as a way to bring in and interrogate suspects for bigger crimes. There is also the concern that individuals won’t show up for their court dates, adding to an already back-logged active arrest warrants.
The proposal got a mixed response when presented to the public safety committee on Tuesday, but will go in front of the entire city council later this month for their consideration.
If it passes, Dallas could join the growing number of states and cities decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession; 17 states and Washington, DC have decriminalized some form of pot possession.
The Lone Star State has a checkered history with marijuana; in June Governor Greg Abbot signed a law that permitted low-THC cannabis oils to be prescribed to those with epilepsy. However, in order for a doctor to be able to prescribe any form of cannabis they need a license from the DEA. Most states require doctors to “recommend” and not prescribe cannabis products to their patients, and so the widespread efficacy of the legislation is highly questionable.
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