Starting Dec. 1, no one busted in the city of Dallas for possessing 4 ounces or less of marijuana will be required to spend the night in jail. With a 4-1 vote Tuesday, the Dallas County Commissioners Court cleared the way for the policy to take effect.
Instead, individuals cited for pot possession will be given a citation and required to show up to at least two court dates. The penalties for the crime will remain the same — up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine — but people will be able to avoid the immediate disruptions, like having a car impounded or missing a shift at work without warning, that often come with an arrest.
The city of Dallas signed off on the program, called cite-and-release, in April after two years of back-and-forth, calling for it to begin Oct. 1. While the Dallas Police Department was prepared to start cite-and-release on schedule, Dallas County, which will handle the court dates, prosecution and potential probation sentences of those who receive citations, faced opposition to the policy.
Commissioner John Wiley Price was the loudest voice against the county helping Dallas with cite-and-release. Price, who represents southeast Dallas County, argued again Tuesday that the policy doesn't go far enough because people can still end up with criminal records and isn't fair because Dallas is the only city within the county to enact cite-and-release.
"In its application, cite-and-release represents disparate treatment for more than half the citizens of Dallas County," Price said.
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While other members of the Commissioners Court agreed with Price that they'd rather the Dallas County District Attorney's Office take a more lenient stance on marijuana possession — to the point of de facto decriminalization — they said it was important to take the first step toward reform.
"To [Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson's] credit, she's told us that she's not going to treat [marijuana possession] as a Class C misdemeanor. For us to not do this program with the city of Dallas would be to deny people the benefits of this program while we wait for another program," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said.
Even holdout Dallas County Commissioner Mike Cantrell, the sole Republican on the court, voted for cite-and-release after the county ordinance implementing the program was changed to read that cities in Dallas County may opt into cite-and-release, rather than that they should opt into cite-and-release.
For Price, however, the reforms created by the new program remained a cold comfort. "Malcolm X says that 'If a man puts a knife in your back nine inches and pulls it out six, it's really not much relief," he said.