That big city to our right might not be harshing so many mellows in the future. On December 8, the Dallas City Council’s Public Safety Committee, police officials, and City Council discussed the creation of a much-needed cite-and-release pilot program similar to the one Houston has scheduled to begin on January 1, 2016. If Dallas’ program passes, police would issue citations to an individual busted with fewer than 2 ounces of marijuana rather than hauling him to the La Pinta Inn in Huntsville. Texas legislators passed a law in 2007 that lets police departments issue marijuana citations rather than make arrests for minor offenses, including possession of marijuana. The programs are intended to save police and cities time and money and to keep first-time offenders out of jail. This allows police officers to spend more time keeping cities safe from real criminals.
Currently, someone caught with 2 ounces or less of weed can be punished by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Dallas Police Chief David Brown said he’s conflicted over the idea but told The Dallas Morning News that the new program is “just so damn practical.”
The penalty for pot possession is not being reduced. What will change is how the officer handles the situation. Under the new program, police would issue a ticket with a court date to someone caught with 2 ounces or less of pot. Instead of officers arresting someone in possession on the spot, they would ticket him and then turn him loose. Failure to appear in court on the ordered date would result in an arrest warrant.
City council member Philip Kingston said the new program could help lower 911 response times and allow police to focus on higher-priority matters. Kingston compared possession to jaywalking and said he’d legalize marijuana if he could. It’s probably a coincidence that he shares a name with the capital of Jamaica. Probably.
Houston’s “First Chance Intervention Program” is being mandated by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Other law enforcement agencies in Texas have adopted cite-and-release programs, including the Austin Police Department, the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, and the Hays County Sheriff’s Department.
Fort Worth is not currently talking about a similar program, but as the people grow, so will the city.