Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia is ordering his officers to stop charging people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Garcia revealed the policy change in a memo to the City Council on Friday, writing that “these procedural changes are being made to lessen the impact of arresting individuals for low level amounts of marijuana.”
He is making his officers only charge for possession if the person has over two ounces or there is evidence that the drug is being sold. (That would mean the officers witness a sale or find multiple baggies of marijuana or digital scales.) Officers will continue to charge individuals who have a gun or who were involved in a violent act. If you’re caught with between two and four ounces, you’ll get a ticket but won’t be taken to jail.
It has been two years since Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot announced he would no longer prosecute small possession charges. That happened in April of 2019, but the Dallas Police Department kept arresting and charging. Cops have been able to cite and release anyone caught possessing fewer than 4 ounces of the drug since the City Council approved the policy in 2017. But the department and the city council never seemed willing to go as far as municipalities like Houston, which decriminalized the drug in 2017.
The police department has long argued that most of its marijuana charges were for individuals who were being charged with other felonies, like distribution or assault. But the district attorney’s office has rejected 3,161 cases from January of 2019 through June of 2020, showing that officers were still arresting and charging minor marijuana cases. (The DA’s office is still compiling charges from June of last year through today, but a spokeswoman says, “Dallas police have still been arresting on marijuana charges, but we expect that to change under this new policy.”)
Meantime, in 2020, Black and Brown people made up 91 percent of possession charges in Dallas County. White people accounted for 9 percent of total arrests, despite statistics showing similar usage between races. In addition, non-Hispanic White people make up 28.5 percent of Dallas County’s population.
“I am pleased to see the updated marijuana arrest policy under Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia. It is the appropriate decision to reduce the racial disparity in arrests of people for low-level marijuana possession charges,” read a statement from Creuzot. “This policy allows officers to focus on violent crimes and reducing police response times, which are both issues of high concern to Dallas residents.”
It also takes a lot of time to charge someone with marijuana possession. If the individual is arrested while driving, one officer has to take the suspect to jail while another officer waits for a towing company. It can take up to four hours to book the person into jail and wrap up the paper work. The district attorney’s office also says there is no evidence that arresting for low-level pot possession has any impact on violent crime.
“I promised to be more data-oriented in my decisions as Dallas County Criminal District Attorney and pledged to help inform others on what the data show,” read Creuzot’s statement. “I have presented the data this office has collected on low-level marijuana arrests to the Dallas City Council and the Community Police Oversight Board. This change to marijuana arrest procedure is a prime example of data impacting public policy.”
According to the chief’s memo, individuals caught with between two and four ounces of marijuana will be issued a ticket and a court date but spared the trip to jail. No matter what, the cops are taking your weed if they find you with it—you just won’t face a charge if it’s under two ounces and for personal use. The new policy went into effect on Monday.