Trying to Bring Sanity to Texas Drug Laws

… and largely failing.

New marijuana law not catching on with local authorities

DALLAS — Many Texans busted for misdemeanor marijuana possession are still being jailed despite a new state law that allows police to issue a citation instead of making an arrest, according to a newspaper report.

Texas lawmakers hoped to ease jail crowding with the new legislation, which took effect Sept. 1, but some local prosecutors worry what message getting a mere ticket for pot might send.

“It may…lead some people to believe that drug use is no more serious than double parking,” Collin County prosecutor Greg Davis said in Tuesday’s editions of The Dallas Morning News.

The Travis County Sheriff’s Department is the only law enforcement agency in the state known to be taking advantage of the new legislation, according to the newspaper.

Prosecutors in Dallas, Tarrant and Collin counties said they have no plans to set up a system dealing with citations for misdemeanor possession, which is less than 4 ounces of marijuana.

In addition to easing crowding, the new law would also theoretically keep officers on the street instead of making runs to jail for nonviolent offenders.

The Dallas County Jail has a history of being understaffed and crowded, which has led, in part, to repeated failed state inspections.

But Dallas County officials worry that because the misdemeanors could still result in a case for prosecution, citations raise issues like making sure suspects appear in court and that no one is misidentified.

“These are not just tickets. These are crimes that need to be appropriately dealt with,” said Ron Stretcher, Dallas County’s director of criminal justice. “We want to make sure we get them back to court to stand trial.”

State Rep. Jerry Madden, a Plano Republican whose district includes Collin County, said it’s likely that some counties are taking a wait-and-see approach, looking for someone to lead the way.

Travis County sheriff’s spokesman Roger Wade said his department lobbied for the new law to help ease jail crowding and increase efficiency.

Issuing citations also helps save the department save gas by not driving suspects from the county’s outlying areas to the jail in Austin, he said.

“We are still hard on crime,” Wade said. “We believe if we can save resources and have the same affect on crime, then we should take advantage of this.”

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