The first numbers for the city of Dallas' cite-and-release program for marijuana enforcement are in, and they're fairly consistent with the city's marijuana arrest numbers when Dallas police officers were required to take those busted for pot possession to the county jail. Dallas officers have written 23 citations for marijuana possession. Each of those citations was given to a black or Latino person, and all but six of them were written south of Interstate 30.
"The stats confirm something that I've been saying for a long time," Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston says. "Marijuana is already legal in the city of Dallas as long as you're white."
Under the program, getting busted with 4 ounces or less of marijuana still carries the same potential penalties as it did before cite-and-release. People caught with 2 ounces or less face up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Those busted with more than 2 but less than 4 ounces face up to a year in jail and $4,000 fine.
The only thing that changes is the arrest process. Rather than being taken to jail immediately, those arrested for pot possession — and marijuana possession alone — are issued a citation with a court date. They don't have to go to jail, pay bail, miss work the next day or potentially have their cars towed, which lessens the upheaval that typically comes with an arrest.
Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson has pledged to allow anyone given a citation for possession of marijuana into the county's pretrial diversion program, which allows charges to be dismissed as long as a defendant completes a drug class, pays a fee to the DA's office and completes a couple dozen hours of community service.
One of the people on the list, a 19-year-old with no criminal background beyond his possession citation, chatted with the Observer via Twitter direct message on the condition that we wouldn't use his name because he has friends and family who don't know about what he calls a "shitty mistake."
"They pulled us over because my friends [sic] tags were out," he says. "It was one blunt — probably not even a gram. I appreciate them showing mercy but [giving us] a lot of shit was unnecessary."
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Officers told him that he had to show up to court but didn't tell him much else about the process, he says.
"I’m glad I didn’t go to jail, [but] best believe that Texas needs to legalize weed seriously," he says. "It’s not a big deal. Let people smoke weed. It’s not harmful at all."
Ian Holmes, a Dallas criminal defense lawyer with experience in marijuana possession cases, says his firm has yet to represent someone cited under the new ordinance. But he says it's important that anyone receiving a possession citation get a lawyer despite the city's streamlining of the legal process.
"You have a state constitutional guarantee to representation by council, and it's because you could face up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine," Holmes says. "Even if you're not facing a harsh jail sentence, you still could be facing license suspension or a permanent conviction on your record."