Some Texas Cities, Counties Adopt “Cite and Release” Policy for Minor Marijuana Offenses

Marijuana possession under Texas drug crime laws ranges from a misdemeanor offense to a major felony, depending on the amount. The Texas Legislature passed a law in 2007 that allows a “cite and release” policy, rather than arrests, for minor marijuana possession and other misdemeanors. Some, but far from all, Texas cities have adopted this policy. Law enforcement officials in neighboring or overlapping jurisdictions might disagree over cite and release. For example, the District Attorney’s Office in Bexar County, where San Antonio is located, announced the implementation of cite and release last year, while the San Antonio Police Department and other local police departments have expressed disagreement with the policy.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense under Texas law. If the amount is no more than two ounces, it is a Class B misdemeanor, increasing to a Class A misdemeanor for an amount that does not exceed four ounces. Tex. Health & Safety Code §§ 481.121(b)(1), (2). A Class A misdemeanor carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Tex. Pen. Code § 12.21. The maximum punishment for a Class B misdemeanor is half of that:  180 days in jail and a fine of $2,000. Id. at § 12.22.

The 80th Texas Legislature passed HB 2391 in May 2007. It took effect on September 1 of that year. Analysis of the bill noted the burdens on county jails throughout Texas, many of which were filled to capacity. The law at the time effectively required police to take people into custody for Class A and Class B misdemeanors. The bill amended Article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure to create exceptions to this requirement. For certain offenses, police could issue a citation instructing a person to appear before a magistrate at a specified time and place, much like a ticket issued for a traffic violation. This applies to Class A and B marijuana possession, as well as certain misdemeanor offenses under the Texas Penal Code.

The bill does not require local jurisdictions to use cite and release procedures, but some have officially adopted cite and release policies. The Dallas City Council, for example, passed an ordinance in April 2017 requiring city police officers to use cite and release in misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. Austin has adopted the policy in marijuana cases as well, and the University of Texas Police Department has stated that it uses cite and release for Class B marijuana possession cases.

San Antonio presents an example of disagreement among law enforcement officials. Bexar County announced in September 2017 that it would implement cite and release, and the policy officially took effect in January 2018. This only applies to the District Attorney and the Sheriff’s Office, however. The San Antonio Police Department, which is part of the city government, rather than the county, has stated that it does not currently plan to participate. The police chief of Olmos Park, a small municipality entirely within San Antonio’s city limits, went further by expressly rejecting cite and release.

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

Michael J. Brown is a board-certified marijuana defense lawyer with more than 20 years’ experience defending people against state and federal charges in West Texas courts. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation with a knowledgeable and skilled advocate for criminal justice.

More Blog Posts:

Texas County Establishes Diversion Program for All Misdemeanor Marijuana Offenses, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 30, 2017

Federal Judge Rules on Homeowners’ Claim that Tea Leaves Did Not Provide Probable Cause for Drug Raid, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 25, 2017

Dissenting State Supreme Court Justice Criticizes Sentence for Marijuana Possession, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, May 25, 2017