After twice being left for dead, cite-and-release for low-level marijuana possession is back on the table in Dallas, with a vote by the City Council expected as early as April 12. Members of the council who support cite-and-release have twice pushed for changing the way Dallas cops handle pot arrests over the last couple of years, only to be stymied by recalcitrant City Council members and police brass.
Cite-and-release allows those caught with weed to be given a ticket and told to show up to court later, rather than arrested. The penalties for marijuana possession in Dallas — a max $2,000 fine and six months in jail — remain the same.
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Councilman Philip Kingston secured the five council signatures necessary from himself, Tiffinni Young, Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs and Mark Clayton to get cite-and-release back on the agenda. "I think as a practical matter it’s going to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, because what cop is going to want to write the ticket and then go down and testify on a B misdemeanor," Kingston told the Observer as he pushed for cite-and-release the last time. "I’m as transparent about this as I can be. My hope is that this will finally convince DPD to ignore marijuana. That is my goal, that they will ignore marijuana. I know that I don’t have the power to legalize the stuff, but I do have the power to correctly allocate criminal justice resources that are under my control so that they aren’t spent on pot."
During the last council debate on the issue, then Dallas Police Chief David Brown was reluctant to embrace the practice, despite prodding from council members and county officials like Dallas County Criminal Justice Department Director Ron Stretcher. At the time, he emphasized the hazards even a short time in jail posed to those popped for marijuana. "I think the first benefit is to the defendant. If you’re getting arrested, it makes sure you don’t get deeply embedded in the system," Stretcher said. "We believe by not having to come into jail, folks won’t be disrupted with their job and won’t have as much stigma and embarrassment."
This time around, Dallas police public information officer Warren Mitchell says, DPD intends to go with whatever the council recommends.
Cite-and-release has been available to cities in Texas since 2007 when the Texas Legislature approved it for certain low-level misdemeanors, like possessing less than 2 ounces of marijuana or theft.