Dallas Texas has loosened up just a little about marijuana possession in acknowledgment that police have more important crimes to focus their time on. After December 1st, people with 4 ounces or less of marijuana will be issued citations instead of being handcuffed and brought to jail. The new law does not mean that suspects will avoid jail time.
Beginning Dec. 1, getting caught with marijuana in Dallas may not mean a trip to jail.
That’s when Dallas County’s new “cite and release” program will allow officers to issue a court summons to someone who has less than 4 ounces of marijuana.
So far, Dallas is the only city in the county that will participate in the program, which county commissioners approved in October. Other Texas cities, including Houston, San Antonio and Austin, have similar programs.
Permitted by a 2007 state law, the program won’t spare people with marijuana from legal consequences.
To help explain what’s changing — and what’s not — Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson will moderate a forum Tuesday with Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas Assistant Police Chief Gary Tittle.
Although “cite and release” may sound as though a person risks only a citation, much like a traffic ticket, that’s not the case. The program is designed to free up officers to focus on violent crimes and spare people accused of marijuana possession a night in jail.
But the accused person still has to show up in court and may face jail time for a conviction.
It’s up to police to decide whether to take a person to jail for possessing less than 4 ounces of marijuana. People who have outstanding warrants or are violating probation by having illegal drugs will still be arrested.
Police will fingerprint suspects and give them court summonses. Fingerprints will be taken again in court to confirm that people didn’t give officers fake names.
The program streamlines what can be a lengthy jail book-in process for officers and prevents people from facing the immediate hardship of arrest.
“We don’t want your car to be towed. We don’t want you to lose your job,” Johnson said. “We’ll at least cite you and release you. We’ll give you that.”
Because Dallas is the only city participating in the county’s program, people caught in other cities can still be arrested and taken to jail.
Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price voted against the cite-and-release program because he said it was unfair to people with marijuana outside of Dallas.
To counter that, people taken to the Dallas County jail for misdemeanor marijuana possession will be released on a personal recognizance bond. That means they won’t have to post a monetary bail and will be required to appear for all court dates.