To relieve prison population and resources, lawmakers in El Paso, TX have passed a measure to reduce minor-cannabis arrests. Instead, offenders will receive a citation. This isn’t the first time Texas has attempted to reduce these types of arrests.
The El Paso city council passed the proposal to cite-and-release by 7-0, with one absentation. As a result, local authorities will hand out citations instead of arrests for minor cannabis crimes. In other words, people who commit Class A or B misdemeanors won’t automatically be sent to jail.
This policy change will have two intentions behind it. First, lawmakers and health officials want to reduce prison populations due to COVID-19. Many prisons across the country are attempting to decongest their populations to reduce the risk of disease. The other reason for doing this is to preserve resources in the midst of potential economic depression.
“Arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana result in a significant drain on the police department, requiring countless man-hours and tax dollars to arrest, transport, and book each alleged offender,” reads the measure.
Nonetheless, offenders will have to appear before a judge sometime in the future.
Try and Try Again
This measure was first introduced in November of last year. Unfortunately, councilmembers disagreed amongst each other and decided to consult with officials first. State law enforcement and the district attorney’s office were brought in to help assist in implementation plans. Now approved, the City Manager must create and implement a new policy by September 1.
El Paso isn’t the first city in Texas to do this. Earlier this year, Austin approved a measure to end low-level cannabis arrests as well. Unfortunately, the city’s police department decided to defy the new measure and continue to make these arrests.
“Since 2007, all law enforcement officers in Texas have the legal authority and discretion to issue citations, rather than arresting people for small amounts of marijuana,” said Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy. “They usually don’t use this discretion because of political pressure.”
Last year, cannabis advocates proposed another measure behind cannabis decriminalization. The House of Representatives approved the measure, but unfortunately, it fell short in the Senate.
El Paso, and Texas in general, have always held conservative views towards cannabis. In 1915, before there was a federal war on drugs, the city implemented a prohibition on the drug. Over a decade later, El Paso is finally taking a step in the right direction.
Hopefully, the rest of the state will slowly see the benefits behind decriminalizing cannabis, especially during a pandemic and follow suit. Not only will conditions within the prison system improve, but the state could also collect a lot of state revenue by monetizing the drug, as many other states already have. Until then, the state will continue to legalize cannabis.
“Advocates have to keep working at every level of government to push politicians to do the right thing, including a statewide policy change, banning arrests for marijuana possession,” Fazio said. “Our next shot begins in January 2021.”