According to Dallas county criminal justice leaders, minor pot offenders may soon be able to pay a small fine instead of serve jail time.
If the program passes, local police would simply issue tickets to subjects accused of simple possession of marijuana rather than arresting and booking them. The process to write a ticket takes on average twenty to thirty minutes while the arresting and booking process averages three hours. If the program was applied county wide, official believe it would result in a decrease in arrests, possibly by hundreds of arrests per month, solely in marijuana drug charges. The purpose of the program is to free up law enforcement resources and reduce jail population and, in turn, expense for the county. By issuing tickets rather than arresting subjects, more officers are available for patrol and enforcement on the street.
The idea has support from nearly aspect; those in favor of the legalization of marijuana are the most obvious supporters, but even conservatives have shown significant support on the basis of saving costs. At 100 arrests at $63 per day to house an inmate and an (below) average stay of three days, the costs come to nearly $19,000 per month.
The program, however, is not to be confused with decriminalization; although violators won’t be arrested, the charges will remain the same and those cited would still need to appear in court at a later date. The maximum punishment for simple possession would not change from the current guideline, which is up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Under the current guideline, first-time offenders rarely receive any jail time at all with the exception of the time they’re booked until their court date. The new program would eliminate that time period, saving significant costs to the county.
The program isn’t without objection. Some believe the county should work to enforce current laws rather than write new programs. Others worry that those ticketed will fail to appear in court or present false IDs to the officers on duty. With a set implementation date of mid-January, the team is working to answer these questions through appropriate policy and procedure as well as checks and balances. They’re looking at other counties, such as Travis County, who have implemented a cite-and-release policy to learn what has worked well and how they’ve addressed and overcome obstacles and common concerns. Travis County officials estimate that the policy has saved their officers tens of thousands of hours.