In 2016 in Dallas, people still go to jail for the crime of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
The Dallas Police Department is considering a pilot program that would allow officers to give citations to those accused of misdemeanor marijuana possession offenses instead of taking them to jail. Misdemeanor marijuana arrests made up about 2 percent of all arrests in 2015 in Dallas.
The measure could save patrol officers time, DPD Chief David Brown told City Council Wednesday. It could relieve the county jail of nonviolent offenders. And it could increase police response times by getting officers back into action more quickly after a marijuana citation.
The criteria for a ticket rather than a trip to jail include:
*Suspect must have a valid ID on his or her person
*Police will consider prior convictions that could enhance the charge
*Suspect must be at least 17 years old
*Must submit a thumbprint and sign a citation
*Must reside in Dallas County
The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2007 that allows local governments to issue citations for certain class A and class B misdemeanors, including marijuana possession. City Councilman Phillip Kingston asked Chief Brown to consider implementing that in Dallas as a way of decriminalizing marijuana.
Over the past few decades, too many people’s lives have been hurt and even ruined because of the victimless crime of marijuana possession, Kingston says. If Kingston had his way, there wouldn’t even be a citation for that crime in Dallas.
“The prohibition of marijuana in the United States is a relic of the Nixon administration,” he says. “We need to be ignoring class A and B possession of marijuana.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings and city council members Scott Griggs, Lee Kleinman and Tiffini Young all said they support the decriminalization of marijuana.
The Mayor said that “the criminal justice system has made a mistake” regarding drug policy and “hurt a lot of people.”
“My sentiment is to try and figure out how we can minimize sending people to jail,” Rawlings says.
But there is a question of whether it is the job of a City Council to try and solve that problem, he says.
Rawlings and City Councilwoman Sandy Greyson declined to support the pilot program because of the residential stipulation. They both represent constituents in Far North Dallas, where some residents live within the city of Dallas but outside the county line. It wouldn’t be fair for Dallas residents who live in Denton or Kaufman counties to go to jail for marijuana possession while their Dallas County neighbors would not, Greyson says.
At least one council member, Rickey Callahan, seemed reluctant to support the decriminalization of marijuana in general. It’s not the same as jaywalking or failing to fasten one’s seat belt, he says.
“THC is a hallucinogen. It’s illegal. It’s been illegal,” he says.
Letting marijuana users off with a citation allows the risk that they will commit other crimes, Callahan says.
“If you ignore that behavior, it’s just going to perpetuate,” he says.
Chief Brown told City Council that if an officer suspects that a person caught with marijuana might previously have committed some other crime, there would be a protocol in place to search vehicles or otherwise detain the suspects.
Also, marijuana would be treated like open container alcohol laws. If a driver is caught with an open beer, for example, and is not intoxicated, he or she receives a ticket and is not taken to jail. If they’re drunk, they’re given a DWI. Likewise, if a driver is caught smoking marijuana while driving, he or she could be given a citation. If the person is found to be high, he or she would be taken to jail for DUI.
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