Dallas Marijuana 'Cite & Release' a Half-Assed Measure

Offenders can avoid jail, but only at first.


The Jumping Bean/flickr

Dallas' new "cite and release" program for marijuana possession illustrates just how ridiculous marijuana prohibition laws are to begin with.

The program for offenders caught with up to 4 ounces of marijuana is limited to a very certain kind of offender. Only offenders who have not been caught in a drug-free school zone, who have not previously been convicted of a crime, who have no outstanding warrants, have a valid state ID, and are residents of Dallas County will be eligible.

And despite its name, the penalty for marijuana possession is still not actually a citation. Possession of up to two ounces of marijuana can be punished by up to six months in jail and a fine of $2,000, while possession of up to four ounces of marijuana can be punished by up to a year in jail and a fine of $4,000. First time offenders will continue to have the opportunity to enter a diversionary program.

Police, of course, will continue to confiscate your marijuana if they catch you with it.

According to the Dallas Police Department, more than 400 people who were taken to jail last year would have been eligible for "cite and release." Between January and May of last year alone, police arrested more than 1,300 people for marijuana possession.

Police officials insist the new program will cause less disruption in people's lives but that relief is temporary; eventually they will have to go to court and succesfully fight the charge to avoid a jail sentence. It's also not a one-way street—police benefit because they won't have to spend limited resources hauling non-violent drug offenders into jail.

As marijuana is decriminalized and legalized around the country, the attempts to hold on to the principles of prohibition appear increasingly antiquated and outdated.

Half-measures like this one, especially, bring the motivations behind prohibition into stark relief. Who are anti-marijuana laws are supposed to benefit, anyway? The fewer the penalties against marijuana possession the clearer the answer to that question is.

Moves like keeping marijuana offenders out of jail prior to trial, converting marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a merely citable offense, or even legalizing and regulating marijuana, reveal revenue generation to be the primary driver of anti-marijuana laws.

No matter how liberal currently existing marijuana laws have gotten, government revenue is still at the center. To lawmakers and bureaucrats, the taxes and fees associated with legal marijuana appear to be the most important component.

So it likely is with virtually all government ventures.