The new Dallas police chief, Edgardo “Eddie” Garcia, held a bag of 2 ounces of weed up to the camera during yesterday’s virtual public safety committee meeting.
He was explaining that he hasn’t decided yet whether he considers this to be a “personal use” amount. What he has decided, though, is that if there isn’t evidence of intent to distribute, his officers could better spend their time combating violent crime rather than arresting and citing people for small amounts of marijuana.
“I certainly don’t believe that it’s good practice to utilize our resources for officers to spend four to six hours or longer processing an individual for personal possession or small quantities of marijuana…,” he said. The city needs officers to get violent crime under control, and that’s what they’d rather be doing anyway.
That's why he asked the committee to hold off for 30 days on a resolution that would "decriminalize" low-level marijuana possession in Dallas. Garcia said he could instead make changes to DPD’s general orders to cut back on weed law enforcement.
The chief went on to show the committee how the same 2 ounces of weed could be repackaged in smaller bags for a drug dealer to sell. “I’m asking that we are giving the opportunity to policy our decisions as to whether or not and where the discretion lies with officers,” Garcia said. “From a policy perspective, if we need to tweak things because the crooks are getting smarter, then it’s easier for me to policy that, as opposed to going through a larger process.”
City Council member Adam Bazaldua proposed the resolution last year.
It’s a bit misleading to say weed would be “decriminalized” under the resolution. State law makes possession of marijuana illegal, and that's an issue for the Texas Legislature. Bazaldua proposed ordering Dallas cops to stop citing or arresting people for possession of small amounts of weed because the DA’s office usually throws the cases out.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot has adopted a policy of not filing minor weed cases against anyone with a clean record and no other charges against them.
In 2017, the council adopted a cite-and-release program that allowed officers at their own discretion to issue misdemeanor tickets to anyone caught with 4 ounces or less of cannabis. Dallas cops usually still book those they arrest for simple possession instead of writing a ticket.
In January, there were 3,075 arrests made by DPD. Weed arrests made up 9% of all Dallas’ arrests. The police made 210 arrests for 2 ounces of weed or less. That means low-level marijuana charges were part of 7% of all arrests in the city of Dallas. For a majority of these arrests, possessing weed was a secondary charge, according to DPD. Statistics have also shown that most of these possession charges are against people of color.
“Those small amounts, those don’t excite me,” Garcia said. “Arresting individuals that are victimizing our city, that excites me. Getting drug dealers excites me.”
He added that while small amounts are not particularly harmful, he thinks the drug dealers create a dangerous atmosphere and add to the city's blight.
Several bills have been filed in the Legislature that tackle weed laws in Texas. But Shaun McAlister, the executive director of DFW chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the Observer that a lot of work can also be done on the local level.
He said if major cities in Texas make weed a lower priority for local law enforcement, there’s not a whole lot the state could do to enforce marijuana laws. Sometime during the next month, Garcia said he would bring his recommendations to the public safety committee for review so its members can decide how to move forward.