Dallas approves marijuana cite and release program

People caught with small amounts of marijuana will get a ticket instead of going to jail in Dallas.

The city council voted 10-5 Wednesday afternoon to approve the so-called "cite and release" pilot program. The new rules would affect people caught with four ounces or less of marijuana and aren’t committing another crime. The rule would go into effect in October 2017.

Councilmember Phillip Kingston says specifically he's been battling the odds for years to see cite and release become reality and was happy with its passage.

“We have the absolute duty to define how we spend our limited public safety resources,” Kingston said.

But Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata says he thinks the council didn't think the plan through.

"When we're talking four ounces.  Two ounces is a handful, a large handful. We're talking two large handfuls of marijuana," Mata said.  "That's not someone, you know, with personal consumption at the time. No that's somebody who could easily break that up and sell to other individuals."

Attorney Pete Schulte said on FOX4's Good Day the plan wouldn’t reduce the offense from a Class B misdemeanor, which is the same as a first-time DWI. Instead, police would release offenders on a personal recognizance bond on the side of the road and let them know they’ll need to appear in county court later.

“The problem with cite and release is this, if somebody doesn’t show up to court it shifts the burden of getting them to court to the sheriff’s office or the DA’s office. And so for the city to say hey we want to do this they have to get the entire criminal justice system on board and I don’t think they’re there yet,” Schulte said.

But, he does agree that attitudes about small amounts of marijuana for personal use are changing.

“When I started as an officer in the late 90s if you had a joint you went to jail,” he said.

Now he knows a lot of officers “return it to nature” and give people warnings. Officers do have some discretion, although it's less now with body cameras.

Other cities have started writing tickets for attempted possession of marijuana, which drops the offense down from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor. That’s the equivalent to a speeding ticket.

“It keeps it in the city. The money stays in the city and everything is handled by municipal court,” Schulte said.

There is a similar proposal in Austin right now, but Gov. Greg Abbott has already said he will not support a change in Texas.

Note: This story has been updated to include the response from The Dallas Police Association.