Lightening Up a Bit on Those Who Light Up

  Lightening Up a Bit on Those Who Light Up

Posted by CN Staff on June 22, 2007 at 09:32:14 PT
By Bud Kennedy, Star-Telegram Staff Writer 
Source: Star-Telegram 

Texas -- Your "tough on crime" Texas Legislature has decided to lighten up. Or maybe I should say light up.Clearing Texas' hazy drug laws, lawmakers have given police the choice of issuing a court summons -- similar to a ticket -- to pot smokers. As of Sept. 1, possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana can be enforced by a simple summons.
That's not the only crime that no longer includes a ride to jail under a bill signed last week by Gov. Rick Perry.As of Sept. 1, law officers can also choose to issue a summons for:Theft or hot checks under $500.Criminal mischief or graffiti involving damage under $500.Driving without a license."We want to get tough on crime, but we also want to get smart on crime," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, the author, a Plano insurance agent."Let's not spend a lot of taxpayers' money putting people in jail who don't need to be there," Madden said. "Let's give local police more discretion."You might think this idea came from liberal Democrats.Wrong.It came from thrifty Republicans."The idea was to free up more county jail space and law officers' time for violent offenders and sex offenders," said Marc Levin of the Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative organization that lobbied for House Bill 2391."We looked at how to save counties money. We always came back to the same answer: Take the low-level offenders out of the county jail."As of Thursday, 302 misdemeanor suspects were among the 3,498 jailbirds awaiting trial in Tarrant County.They're living off our dime because they can't afford to make bail."Some of these people are taking up jail space at $60 a day," Levin said.He quoted a 1999 Washington study showing that a typical arrest costs taxpayers almost $4,000, figuring in jail costs; judges' and prosecutors' time; indigent defense costs; the cost of transporting prisoners to jail and to court hearings; and the value of the arresting officer's lost patrol time."There is no reason for an officer to spend three hours putting somebody in jail when they could write a ticket," Levin said.Officers already decide whether to jail or ticket offenders on Class C misdemeanor charges.Technically, in Texas you can be locked up for any violation except speeding or driving with an open container of alcohol."We already give police that decision," Madden said. "All this bill does is give police more power to make decisions."The new law does not reduce the fine or punishment for any crime. Possession of marijuana and petty theft remain Class A or B misdemeanors punishable by up to a $4,000 fine or a year in jail.Under the new law, suspects will be issued a summons and told to appear in court within 48 hours.If they don't show up, then a judge can issue a warrant for their arrest.Madden said lawmakers chose the 4-ounce Class A misdemeanor marijuana limit "based on whether a person is a user and not a dealer."Law enforcement advocates and conservatives such as former lawmaker Suzanna Hupp of Lampasas supported the bill. It passed with considerable news coverage in San Antonio, but Tarrant County officials said they hadn't seen it.Terry Grisham, the spokesman for Sheriff Dee Anderson, said the law's success will rest on "officer discretion.""If you get pulled over by a cop tonight, that officer makes a decision whether to take you to jail, write you a ticket or let you go," Grisham said. "That's not changing."You could say that the Texas Legislature came up with a new slogan for pot smokers and petty offenders:If you do the crime, you come back later and pay the fine.Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Complete Title: A Thrifty Move: Lightening Up a Bit on Those Who Light Up Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)Author: Bud Kennedy, Star-Telegram Staff WriterPublished: June 22, 2007Copyright: 2007 Star-TelegramContact: letters star-telegram.comWebsite: -- Cannabis Archives

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Comment #6 posted by Toker00 on August 24, 2007 at 20:32:44 PT
The positive is all for them.
Besides the embarrassment of being treated like a criminal (animal?) and hauled to the pokey immediately after your arrest and eliminating the need to post bail, (I must admit we could all do without that) there are no changes for us. So hey, can we keep the weed too? Just asking...:)Toke.
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Comment #5 posted by Taylor121 on June 23, 2007 at 14:49:12 PT
The bill is helpful
As it stands now here in Texas, police are REQUIRED to arrest you and take you in for marijuana possession. With the passage of this particular bill, police captains will no longer be required to have policies that require them to arrest you and can instead issue a ticket. They can still arrest you, but at least this way fewer people will go to jail for marijuana possession. Example: You are pulled over and are polite to the officer. The officer smells marijuana in your car, searches, finds it. Right now he would have to cuff you and take you to jail. Now the officer can simply say "Son, I'm just going to issue you a summons. Come on in in 48 hours and you won't have to go to jail" This is the same way class C (fine only) offenses apply in Texas. A cop can arrest you for possession of paraphernalia, but will usually just issue a citation. Now they can do the same with possession. 
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Comment #4 posted by Hope on June 22, 2007 at 21:44:37 PT
Comment 2  Afterburner
"And does that "police discretion" allow the police to send people to jail instead of a ticket for the specified crimes?"Yes.
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Comment #3 posted by FoM on June 22, 2007 at 21:38:11 PT
Good question. 
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Comment #2 posted by afterburner on June 22, 2007 at 21:27:33 PT
What happens if people can't pay the fine?
And does that "police discretion" allow the police to send people to jail instead of a ticket for the specified crimes?
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Comment #1 posted by Yasuo on June 22, 2007 at 17:13:58 PT
This is very refreshing to hear. Especially coming from the republican mind-frame.
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