A key drug reform policy passed by the city of Dallas this spring remains under threat by the continued efforts of Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, who wants to submarine cite-and-release before it starts. On Tuesday, Price sparred with Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins over the reform, which was initially set to go into effect Sunday.
Cite-and-release isn't a perfect policy. Among many of its proponents, it is seen as a half measure, a stepping stone on the way to decriminalization. The policy would still impose the same penalties currently on the books statewide for possession of less than 4 ounces of marijuana — up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine — and would require those caught to make at least two court appearances before the final disposition of their cases. Those caveats aside, cite-and-release is designed to save Dallas police officers' time by reducing trips to Dallas County jail to book people for marijuana possession. It would also help those who would've otherwise been booked avoid spending at least a night in jail. They could still show up to work the next day and pick up their kids from day care or school. Their cars wouldn't be towed to the impound lot.
Cite-and-released received overwhelming support from the Dallas City Council in April, but Price is unwilling to let the county do its part — basically, setting up courts to handle those ticketed for marijuana possession. On Tuesday, Price echoed claims he made in September about the unfairness of cite-and-release being an option for Dallas police officers and residents but not the rest of the county. His comments showed confusion about how cite-and-release works.
Price repeatedly asked Johnson why she couldn't implement cite-and-release countywide, over the objections of Dallas County cities that don't want cite-and-release. Johnson told Price that there is no way for her office to stop cities from arresting people for things that are crimes but that she would work with Dallas County's judges to make sure anyone arrested for marijuana possession in Dallas County is, at worst, released on a personal recognizance bond that requires no cash bail.
"I find that interesting. She can give PR bonds but she can't do nothing else. That salves her conscience," Price said.
Johnson insisted that everyone arrested for pot possession in Dallas County will be treated equally, regardless of whether they are eligible for cite-and-release.
"That's why we had all those exonerees," Price shot back sarcastically, "because the DA's office treated everybody the same. That's the reason African-Americans spent 900 years in prison for cases they didn't commit — because we treat everyone the same. We understand."
Kingston, one of cite-and-release's most strident backers on the City Council, asked Price to allow the city of Dallas to enforce its ordinance, so that the city can keep young offenders out of jail.
"All I want to do is come to the county and say, 'Please help us implement this program.' The only thing we want is for our kids not to go to jail," Kingston said. "These cases are overwhelming African American and Latino young men. In a de facto way ... it is today, practically speaking, legal for white kids to smoke marijuana. They never get arrested for it. It's not just."
"Don't try to do your best. Just do it," Price said. "Don't treat half of your children one way until the others catch up."
The Dallas County Commissioner's Court will vote Oct. 17 on funding for cite-and-release. If passed, the policy will become effective Dec. 1. Johnson says the county will begin releasing those arrested for marijuana possession on personal recognizance bonds later this month.