City Hall

Dallas Police Relaxes Weed Policy Just in Time For 4/20

Weed still isn't legal, but under the Dallas Police Department's new policy, less people will be charged with possession.
Weed still isn't legal, but under the Dallas Police Department's new policy, less people will be charged with possession. Jacob Vaughn
Under certain circumstances, the Dallas Police Department is done charging people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. You’ll still get popped if there are any signs of intent to distribute, if you have more than 2 ounces of weed, if you have a firearm or if there's a companion charge for a crime against another person.

Additionally, if you're involved in a drug-related call for police service or part of a narcotics division investigation, you may still walk away with a charge.

At the Feb. 8 public safety committee meeting, police Chief Eddie Garcia suggested a change in the department’s general orders to cut back on arrests for low-level weed possession.

“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 says his officers are better off focusing on violent crime than arresting and citing people for small amounts of marijuana.

This has been in the works for some time now, but finally went into effect yesterday.

“Officers will receive the updated General Orders, a Roll Call Training Bulletin, and a training video to ensure understanding and achieve compliance,” the chief said in a memo to City Council. “The Dallas Police Department will continue to review its procedures to ensure they are in line with best practices and national standards.”

Last September, City Council member Adam Bazaldua essentially proposed decriminalization of low-level marijuana possession. To make this so, he planned to change DPD’s general orders through City Council action because he said that’s how the change needed to happen.

This was an attempt to address racial disparities in marijuana enforcement and ensure the police department is using its resources most efficiently. But when Garcia came on board, he said he could implement the change himself, and the public safety committee gave him the green light to do so.

Most drug-related arrests, 85%, are for possession of less than 2 ounces of weed, according to a recent report by the Office of Community Police Oversight and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. The report said the city wastes money and resources on these arrests.

Black people make up nearly a quarter of the city’s population but account for 49% of all arrests and 57% of pot possession arrests.

"Decriminalizing marijuana and deprioritizing the marijuana arrests was always about minimizing the effect that policing has on poor people.” – Walter "Changa" Higgins, City Council candidate

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Walter "Changa" Higgins, leader of the Dallas Community Police Oversight Coalition, helped collect the data for the report. “Regardless if they say it or not, I think that report had a big impact on Garcia moving on this so quickly,” Higgins said. He’s glad the police chief is showing a willingness to deprioritize certain arrests that “keep everyday people and poor people locked into this system of fines, warrants and bail."

While he would like to the change go further, Higgins thinks it's a good step considering the new policy will cover a majority of DPD's drug arrests. Higgins is looking to unseat Bazaldua in City Council District 7.

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.

But 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.

At the Community Police Oversight Board’s August 2020 meeting, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot gave a presentation to encourage dialogue regarding fair and equitable policing.

He told the board that arrests and incarcerations of people for possessing small amounts of marijuana are plaguing the criminal justice system. He added that enforcing these charges does not reduce violent crime, which is kind of out of control in Dallas.

Practically, it just doesn’t make much sense to charge people in Dallas for low-level weed possession. Creuzot told the board that on average it takes a DPD office four hours to book someone into jail and complete the paperwork for a low-level possession charge. These hours are precious to DPD as the department struggles to meet adequate response times.

To make matters more difficult, arrests for small amounts of weed often require two officers, one to book the suspect and another to wait for the towing company to pick up the suspect's car.

Under the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill, hemp with 0.3% THC is legal. Because of this, a $217 lab analysis is required to determine if weed is illegal and contains more than 0.3% THC.

The month after Creuzot’s presentation, the board made a motion to recommend to City Council that the Dallas Police Department cease arrests for the possession of small quantities of marijuana and issue Class C misdemeanor citations.

Jesuorobo Enobakhare Jr., chair of the community police oversight board, said he appreciates Garcia’s efforts, but he’d rather see the change happen through a City Council action. To Enobakhare Jr., this would make the change more permanent. He worries another police chief may come along and change the general orders to be tougher on weed.

Higgins also said he hoped City Council would take the lead on this policy change so it couldn't be so easily reversed.

North Texas police departments have cut back on weed law enforcement in a number of ways.

The Fort Worth Police Department announced it would stop arresting and citing people for small amounts of weed because of "issues with testing."

At the end of March, the Plano Police Department began handing out citations for possession of drug paraphernalia, a Class C misdemeanor, in instances when they found small amounts of pot.

Under state law, a person with 2 ounces of weed or less would get stuck with a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a $2,000 fine and 180 days in jail. A conviction for a Class C misdemeanor results in a fine of no more than $500.

Higgins hopes to one day see a "seize-and-release" policy for weed instead of cite-and-release.

“For me, it was never about marijuana," Higgins said. "Decriminalizing marijuana and deprioritizing the marijuana arrests was always about minimizing the effect that policing has on poor people.”
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn