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Dallas Just Approved a New Policy on Street-Level Pot Busts

Finally, after nearly three years of close calls, the Dallas City Council passed cite-and-release for marijuana possession Wednesday afternoon on a 10-5 vote.

Starting Oct. 1, anyone caught with less than four ounces of marijuana in the portion of the city of Dallas that lies within Dallas County will get a ticket for possession, rather than being arrested. The decision comes a little more than a year after the council rejected a similar plan in March 2016.

Tiffinni Young and Philip Kingston, the council's two driving forces for cite-and-release, told their colleagues that passing pot reform would provide some balance to Dallas' criminal justice system. They argue they system is tilted against the city's poor and minority communities. "Some of these laws that are on the books are unjust to begin with," Young said.

Those who supported the ordinance in 2016 — Adam Medrano, Scott Griggs, Mark Clayton, Lee Kleinman and Philip Kingston — picked up five votes this time. Young, Casey Thomas, Erik Wilson, Monica Alonzo and Carolyn Arnold changed their mind and today voted to approve cite-and-release.

Opponents attacked the proposed ordinance from three directions. Sandy Greyson, who said she supports the idea of cite-and-release, said she couldn't support bringing the policy to Dallas because it wouldn't apply to the portions of her District 12 that are Collin and Denton Counties.

Jennifer Gates said she worried Dallas residents might believe that cite-and-release is the same as decriminalization. It isn't. Those cited and released face the same penalties for marijuana possession as those arrested for the same crime.

Gates suggested pulling the cite-and-release from the agenda for more study, despite the thorough vetting the plan has already received from the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. That office helped Young draft the ordinance. Kingston called Gates' plan to delay the ordinance "poisonous," before adding that "justice delayed is justice denied." Gates' motion failed by an 8-7 vote.

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Councilman Ricky Callahan seemed to have a larger problem with accommodating marijuana use at all. "I just don’t get why people have to be high all the time. Why don’t they go to school, get a job?" Callahan said. "I want people to focus on being personally responsible by getting their education or working in a job as opposed to going around with a bag full of something. We need to inculcate different values into our people instead of saying, 'I’m a victim, I’m a victim.'"

Last year, then-Dallas Police Chief David Brown opposed cite-and-release, partially ensuring its failure. On Wednesday, Dallas Assistant Police Chief Gary Tittle said the department had no opinion on the new ordinance and would follow whatever orders the council gave.

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