Ticketing for Marijuana Possession is a Small Step in the Right Direction

As someone who studies the effectiveness of criminal justice policies, I rarely can applaud a specific policy in Texas. But I could do just that when I heard about a new pilot program taking shape in Dallas.

The Dallas City Council is considering a program of ticketing rather than arresting individuals caught in possession of 4 ounces or less of marijuana. The procedure, known as cite and release, involves the police issuing a ticket to the offender, much like the procedure used for traffic violations. The ticket is a promise to appear in court on a particular date and time.

This is a good idea because it avoids the stigma of individuals being formally arrested and booked into jail. It also saves significant amounts of police time as well as expensive jail resources. Other Texas city and county governments should take note.

Although the new cite and release policy seems like a kinder, gentler approach, the reality is that possession of marijuana in Texas is a criminal offense with criminal consequences. Under current Texas law, possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Possession of between 2 and 4 ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

There is a painful irony here. Punishment does not reduce drug use. Years of scientific evidence shows that neither the threat of punishment nor the actual experience of punishment deters substance abuse. We have tried for decades to punish our way out of a massive drug problem.

We have spent $1 trillion on the war on drugs, the vast majority of that going to arrest, conviction and…Read More

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