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Dallas County Marijuana Arrests: In 2015, Dallas Police Not Busting for Pot

Dallas police officers stop people for being high or possessing pot all the time; often, these encounters result in arrests that are not based upon serious felony charges leading to significant jail time upon conviction. Lots are misdemeanor charges.

Bottom line, many of the marijuana arrests in our area are for relatively small amounts of weed that’s clearly for personal use. We’re not talking a major cartel busts with pounds or kilos of marijuana here.

For the person who has been arrested and charged with possession of marijuana, no matter how small, there can be serious consequences. An arrest, even for a small amount of marijuana, becomes a part of your criminal record. Unless you have that arrest record sealed, or your conviction expunged (for more on expungement, see below), getting caught for that tiny bit of pot can haunt you for years to come, impacting your future employment; your ability to get college scholarships or grants; your military service; etc.

Thing is, these arrests for small amounts of marijuana are not that great for law enforcement, either. Anytime a Dallas police officer arrests someone for having marijuana in his possession, the officer has to spend time going through the steps from initial contact to arrest, and then through the time involved in hauling the arrested person down to the Dallas County Jail and booking.

This takes time and costs money. And it keeps Dallas law enforcement off the streets where they might be able to apprehend or stop more serious crimes — like violent assaults, or armed robberies — or practically anything that is illegal and more dangerous than some guy busted with some weed in his jeans pocket.

2007 Catch and Release Law

It isn’t just a problem for the Dallas Police Department: this holds true for all Texas law enforcement. Which is why a state law was passed several years ago that allowed Texas municipalities to opt for NOT arresting folk for Class B misdemeanors (like possession of a small amount of marijuana) and to instead issue a citation (akin to a traffic ticket).

This way, the police officer acts to enforce the Texas law against possession of marijuana, but doesn’t have to leave the streets to arrest and book the person. And there’s no formal arrest and booking photo (think all those TMZ photo ops) for the unfortunate guy who got caught with a bit of pot.

It’s been nicknamed the “catch and release” law and it’s been used so far in Travis County as well as Midland and Hays counties.

There Will Be Lots Fewer Marijuana Busts in Dallas and Houston

1.  Houston  – NOW

In Houston, the Powers That Be have announced that Harris County will be using this 2007 state law to change how marijuana possession charges for small amounts of pot are going to be handled there. On October 2, 2014, the Harris County District Attorney issued a press release explaining that anyone caught with less than 2 ounces of pot and no prior offenses will not be prosecuted by her office but instead be sent to drug awareness classes or asked to spend a day doing community service.  If they follow through with their assignment, then no charges will be filed against them.

However, it’s an election year for the District Attorney down in Houston (just like it is here in Dallas) and the challenger to the current D.A. is going further in her campaign promises than what was announced this week.

If Kim Ogg is elected, she’s going to make it the law of Houston and Harris County that anyone found with less than 4 ounces of marijuana will serve 2 days of community service, and once that is done, then the charge will be automatically erased from their criminal record. Ogg’s plan would apply to first time offenders and repeat offenders alike. (That’s going to get Ogg some votes.)

2.  Dallas – January 2015

Here in Dallas, we’ve got Craig Watkins running against Susan Hawk and it looks like there’s some political juice to lowering marijuana busts here, too.   Curiously, just 2 days after the Harris County District Attorney’s announcement, the Dallas County Powers that Be announced that early next year (say January 15, 2015) Dallas County will have Dallas police officers issue tickets when they find someone in possession of a small amount of cannabis instead of arresting them.

This is interesting since the Texas Legislature has been concerned that the 2007 law hasn’t been used much at all since its passage, and there were discussions in the spring among state lawmakers to remove low-level marijuana possession punishments from the Texas Penal Code since Texas law enforcement wasn’t doing much to take up Austin’s “catch and release” invitation.

The Dallas Morning News has already published its op-ed supporting the idea.

Important distinction for Dallas: the punishment upon conviction would not be changed in Dallas. You can still face up to 6 months in jail and a $2000 fine if you are caught by the cops with any pot up to 2 ounces. Usually (and especially if you have an experienced criminal defense lawyer at your side) you can negotiate (plea) the charges down to anything from a dismissal to community service, and then get your record expunged down the road.

Interesting note: this was announced by the Director of Criminal Justice for Dallas County, not the District Attorney. Craig Watkins’ office promised to provide details of Watkins’ official position at a later date.

More Information on Expungement

For more information on EXPUNGEMENT of a criminal record, read our resources page here as well as our In-Depth Article, and see Michael Lowe’s online collection of  free expungement information and forms.

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