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Common-sense pot policy good for cities

Profile image for Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial
Denton Record-Chronicle Editorial

Texas law calls for up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $2,000 for anyone possessing 2 ounces or less of marijuana. We think that punishment is too harsh.

People who go to jail often end up losing their jobs and falling behind on rent payments and other bills. We see no reason for police to destroy someone's life because the person smokes a little pot.

The Dallas City Council recently approved a new cite-and-release ordinance that calls for police officers to issue tickets to anyone caught with up to 4 ounces of marijuana. In effect, offenders get what amounts to a traffic ticket instead of being hauled off to jail.

We agree with the Dallas policy, but not the amount of pot. Four ounces is a lot of marijuana, and anyone with that much weed is probably selling it by the gram. Those who sell illegal drugs should go to jail.

Denton City Council candidates recently agreed with the concept of cite-and-release while reserving the right to argue about details. We also think the time has come for cite-and-release.

Anyone caught with an ounce or less should get a ticket for a Class C misdemeanor -- no jail time and a reasonable fine of $250 or less. It would be just like getting a speeding ticket. You could pay the fine or you could challenge the ticket in court if you believe you are not guilty.

The United States has been grappling with the marijuana issue for more than 50 years. We once considered it no different than heroin or cocaine. But most people now accept that marijuana is far less harmful than hard drugs.

Addiction experts have debunked the theory that pot is a "gateway drug" that leads to cocaine, heroin or methamphetamine.

Consequently, 23 states have decriminalized possession of marijuana for medical or recreational use. Texas is not one of them. Given the ultra-conservative politics that dominate the Texas Legislature, proposals that smack of legalization will be shot down.

So, for now, any step toward common-sense marijuana policies falls to city government.

Adoption of cite-and-release does not tie the hands of police officers. In fact, it gives them more options during encounters with citizens. They can still arrest and jail anyone judged too stoned to drive.

If someone caught with a little weed causes a disturbance, police can still jail him for disorderly conduct and write a ticket for misdemeanor pot possession.

But officers will also have the option to cut people a break. Let's say they stop someone for running a red light. The officer approaches the vehicle and smells the skunky odor of marijuana.

"Are you carrying some pot with you?" the officer asks.

"Yes, ma'am. I have a little bit in my shirt pocket," the driver responds.

"Are you driving under the influence?" the officer asks.

"No, ma'am. I haven't smoked any. I was heading to my girlfriend's house to watch a movie."

Using her discretion, the officer writes a red-light ticket and another for possession of marijuana. And the driver goes on his way.

No need for jail. Today, in 2017, going to jail for having a little bit of pot just does not make any sense.