In a handful of places in Texas -- Austin and Midland and San Marcos, for example -- getting caught carrying a small amount of marijuana will get you a ticket and a court date but, barring more serious infractions, won't involve handcuffs.
Dallas has a different approach.
"We take you to jail," Chief David Brown told Unfair Park last week in an interview for an upcoming profile in our annual People Issue.
The city doesn't have to do that. Under a 2007 law, cities and counties in Texas can opt out of jailing suspects for marijuana possession and a few other Class A and B misdemeanors, like graffiti and driving without a license, by implementing a "cite and release" program, as Travis, Midland and a handful of other counties have done.
Criminal justice-reform types like Texans Smart on Crime's Joe Ptak say the program helped open up jail space and lower costs. Just as important, it frees police resources since officers are no longer forced to spend hours transporting and booking low-level drug offenders into jail.
Brown, though, told us he doesn't intend to change Dallas PD's approach to drug enforcement unless and until the Legislature makes him. "We believe strongly" that enforcing marijuana-possession laws through arrest is the best approach, he said.
Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston says Brown had given him the impression in past conversations that DPD isn't spending resources on low-level possession. He was surprised to learn (from the Observer) that the department is locking up potheads when it doesn't have to.
"That's dumb on crime," Kingston says.
Soon, Brown may not have a choice. The Legislature considered a measure last session that would have reduced the penalty for marijuana possession from a class B to a class C misdemeanor -- basically a traffic ticket. The bill didn't pass, but bet on it to be introduced again in 2015. With the Legislature's relatively strong track record in recent years of criminal-justice reform, and with Rick Perry on board with decriminalization, this could be the year.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.
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