The Dallas City Council will again consider stopping the Dallas Police Department’s policy to arrest people for possessing small amounts of marijuana, next week. Five members of the City Council, who pressed on the policy but didn’t obtain the approval, have pushed cite-and-release back on the council calendar. The policy permits authorities to issue tickets for marijuana possession instead of making arrests. The present penalties for marijuana possession would stay unchanged: a $2,000 fine and up to six months in jail for possession of two ounces or less.
When the council brought up cite-and-release this past year, then Dallas Police Chief David Brown opposed the policy out of concern that police authority would be reduced by it. This time around, the department, under Interim Police Chief David Pughes, means to follow whatever recommendation the council gives by next Wednesday.
This local discourse occurs as the state also debates the problem. The Texas House of Representatives took an important measure on Monday when a bill decriminalizing marijuana possession throughout the entire state passed out of the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.
The bill would eliminate criminal penalties for people caught with less than an ounce of marijuana and treat minor possession like a traffic ticket.
The Texas chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws points out that the chairman of the house Calendars Committee, which commands which bills make it to the house floor for a vote, is State Representative Todd Hunter. He voted for the bill in committee.
This time around, the bill additionally got out of committee with lots of time to spare before the end of the session. That wasn’t the situation a couple of years back, when the bill made it to the Calendars Committee with just a couple of days left before recess.
“I’m excited to have passed our civil penalty bill out of committee nearly five weeks earlier than a similar bill left committee last session. That reflects the bipartisan support this effort has attained cross the state, and I believe we’ll continue to see that moving forward,” Moody said. “Texans understand the time has come to make use of our limited law enforcement resources in the most effective means possible by being smarter on marijuana policy.”
If the bill, which passed the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee with a bipartisan 4-2 vote, passes the Texas House, it would subsequently need to be passed by the Texas Senate and signed by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to become law.
“This is a bipartisan proposal that represents a moderate shift in how Texas handles low-level marijuana violations,” Heather Fazio, a spokesperson for Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy said . “Law enforcement officials’ time and limited resources would be better spent addressing serious offenses.”
Nick Novello, a longtime Dallas policeman who went to Austin to support the bill, says decriminalizing marijuana is needed in Dallas. “After 35 years on the street I’m simply tired of seeing kids’ lives defined by marijuana arrests,” Novello says. “Our culture will not endure a great deal more of what we’re doing to it.”