Dallas City Leaders Debate Cite-and-Release Marijuana Program

For the second time in less than a month, Dallas City Council had a heated debate over a controversial marijuana policy, but did not take definitive action.

The debate is over the Dallas Police Department's plan to issue tickets only for marijuana possession and no longer make arrests and haul someone to jail.

In December, the Public Safety Committee decided to send the pilot program proposal to the full council without voting to support it.

On Tuesday, the full council decided they want more time to try and get more cities on board with the pilot program before voting.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown said he’s been trying for more than a year to see if any other city would join him in the cite-and-release pilot program, but it’s proven an impossible task. Still, based on the mayor’s directive he will keep trying.

“I’m an optimist, a glass-half-full kind of guy,” Brown said. “So I’ll try again and see if any other departments in the county would agree with me on the benefits of this pilot program.”

After several years, there will likely be an up-or-down vote on the plan next time it appears on council agenda in a few weeks.

Cite-and-release is a plan to direct Dallas police officers to issue citations-only for misdemeanor marijuana possession (less than 4 ounces). A sergeant will be called to those scenes and assist and witness the field test to weigh the drug.

Several councilmembers support cite-and-release from an ethical standpoint.

“It has comprehensively ruined the lives of untold numbers of primarily African American and Latino males, who went to jail for no freaking reason,” Councilmember Phillip Kingston said. “Arresting people for low-level possession destroys our social fabric.”

“I am one of those people that believe the criminal justice system has made an error with many, many young men and women in this country around the issue of drugs,” added Mayor Mike Rawlings.

The police chief supports the policy from a practical standpoint. For him, it’s a matter of keeping officers on the streets and responding to important 911 calls.

“I don’t curse much, but that’s the damn practicality in pursuing a pilot program, is that this could help us save time in getting to a victim sooner who is calling 911,” he said.

Brown said the cite-and-release policy will shave the time off a marijuana stop by 30 minutes every time.

He said the policy will help get officers to respond to lower-level crime scenes faster, crimes like theft and criminal mischief that now, police statistics show, take an hour to 90 minutes to get to.

“If you’re calling 911, that could be a significant time-saving, to get to that call within minutes rather than hours,” he added.

But other council members say it's a slippery slope to legalization and that it sends a dangerous message to kids that marijuana isn’t a big deal.

“It’s a hallucinogenic drug. It’s illegal, it’s been illegal for the longest time in this country. And I don’t think it serves any purpose,” Councilman Rickey Callahan said. “If you don’t want to do the time, then don’t do the crime. We don’t need this program, we just need to make sure our young people aren’t smoking this drug.”

Several city council members expressed concern that people with citations won’t show up to court.

“I think it’s unreasonable to assume that someone with marijuana possession is not going to show up or that they’re automatically irresponsible,” said marijuana advocate Yvette Gbalazeh.

“A lot of people are recommended marijuana by their doctors,” she added. “So just because someone is a patient with an illness does not mean they are irresponsible and criminal and not going to take care of their duty to society and show up to court.”

By state law, cite-and-release can not be applied to areas of Dallas beyond Dallas County. That cut-off the support from some councilmembers.

“I have a real concern about implementing this in most of the city, but not in all of the city. So the folks I represent will continue to get arrested, while other folks are going to get-cite-and-release,” said Councilmember Sandy Greyson, whose Dallas district extends into Collin County. “You’re going to continue to arrest some people for a charge that you won’t arrest others for. I can’t support that.”

Overall, marijuana arrests represent just two percent of the city of Dallas’ yearly total, between 100 and 120 a month, on average.

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