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Texas: Cops Say They Will Continue To Jail Minor Pot Possession Offenders Despite New Law

Wednesday, 05 September 2007

Austin, TX: Many Texas law enforcement personnel say that they will continue to arrest and jail minor pot offenders, despite the enactment of a new state law granting police the option of issuing a citation in lieu of making an arrest.

"Marijuana is an introduction to more dangerous drugs and we are going to keep fighting drug use of any kind as long as I am in office," Lamar County Sheriff B.J. McCoy told news outlets this week. "They are going to jail no matter how much they’ve got."

Numerous district attorneys and police throughout Texas have issued similar statements. By contrast, law enforcement in Travis County and in the city of Austin have said that they will comply with the new law – which is intended to reduce jail overcrowding.

Passed by the legislature this summer, House Bill 2391 grants law enforcement the discretion to issue a citation mandating local individuals who commit specific Class A and/or Class B misdemeanor crimes to appear in court. An arrest warrant will be issued for defendants who fail to appear in court by the date specified in the citation.

Under Texas law, possession of up to four ounces of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to one-year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000. Individuals who sell less than one-quarter ounce of cannabis are also guilty of a misdemeanor. The possession and/or sale of larger quantities of cannabis are felony offenses.

"Law enforcement officers are fond of alleging that they don’t make the laws – they just enforce them," NORML Senior Policy Analyst Paul Armentano said. "However, when it comes to the subject of marijuana, we’ve seen time and time again that police not only make the law and enforce the law, they also ignore the law when it suits them to do so."

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, of the 62,741 persons arrested in 2005 (the last year for which data is available) for marijuana violations, 61,076 of them (97 percent) were for possession offenses.

House Bill 2391 was signed into law by Republican Gov. Rick Perry in June. The law took effect on September 1, 2007.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500, or Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst at: paul@norml.org.