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Reducing pot prosecutions one county at a time

Some Texas cities are taking direct action to dial back the drug wars and reduce their jail population.

Zonker

As lawmakers have wrestled in recent years with easing restrictions on marijuana use – an issue they likely will confront again when they convene in January – prosecutors in the state’s most populated areas are relaxing their pursuit of cases that involve recreational amounts of the drug.

An American-Statesman analysis shows those practices are resulting in a spike of marijuana dismissals in Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis and Tarrant counties. In each of the five counties, the rate of dismissal has risen since 2011, dramatically in some places. The trend also appears to be playing out statewide, where 23 percent of all misdemeanor marijuana cases were dismissed in 2011. In 2015, nearly a third were.

Yet that doesn’t mean Texas is witnessing de facto legalization: the number of new misdemeanor pot cases filed by police has stayed relatively constant.

The rate of dismissals is increasing fastest in North Texas. According to data kept by the Texas Office of Court Administration, Tarrant County prosecutors went from dismissing just 9 percent of cases five years ago to 24.3 percent last year. In Dallas County, the dismissal rate more than doubled, from 18 percent in 2011 to 41 percent last year.

Someone nabbed with a small amount of weed in Harris County in 2011 had about a 1 in 5 chance of getting the case dismissed; now it’s about 2 in 5 after officials developed a deferral program in which defendants have their cases thrown out if they meet certain qualifications.

In Travis County, prosecutors in recent years also have dismissed a greater percentage of marijuana cases. But much like in Bexar County, the frequency of dismissals was already significantly higher than in other counties.

For instance, Travis County in 2011 dismissed 42.6 percent of all resolved cases, compared to a statewide average of 22.9 percent.

Most of this is just due to prosecutors not wanting to pursue such minor offenses, and who can blame them? It’s not a substitute for policy, or a change in state law that would institutionalize this behavior. That’s still needed, even if the Legislature isn’t ready for it.

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12 Comments

  1. Paul A Kubosh says:

    We should go ahead and legalize it. Very soon after legalization there will be another group similar to MOTHERS AGAINST DRUNK DRIVING. It will be called MOTHERS AGAINST DRIVING HIGH. Good work everyone another legal Drug that causes death.

    I guess I am just a dinosaur.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    PK, maybe MADD can become MAID, Mothers Against Impaired Driving instead, think of the possibilities for uniforms they can start wearing…

    On a serious note, how many people do you think marijuana kills each year, by itself, unrelated to prohibition or tainted product? I’m not saying I believe proponents claims that no deaths can be attributable to related accidents or that it’s some kind of wonder drug able to cure everything under the sun but is it really so bad that we can still claim it is a big killer?

    So you legalize the drug like booze was and you can still charge people for related crimes, DUI and the like, sparing the vast majority of folks that don’t cause problems under the influence while saving billions of dollars and even making money from the taxes and business opportunities. A win win scenario.

  3. Paul Kubosh says:

    It is a win win for me but it will kill much more people when it is legalized. Have a good evening.

  4. Steve Houston says:

    PK, again, if legalized, the deaths tied to enforcement and tainted supplies smuggled from elsewhere will go down, not up. If you have something supporting a different conclusion, by all means share it with the people reading this blog. Have an awesome weekend. 🙂

  5. Paul Kubosh says:

    Driving while impaired will increase dramatically. It will be just like alcohol. Just watch and see. I am even going to testify in favor of it (not that anyone cares). Everyone get ready to get high. I am with you.

  6. Steve Houston says:

    PK, two things:
    1) You imply that either many more people will be using the drug or that the same number of people will be using a lot more of it because a great many already use it and it is not nearly as big a factor in auto accidents as alcohol. Some would argue that a stoned populace would be less likely to engage in the kind of driving that leads to deaths too, stoners typically driving slower and less aggressively. Personally, I have no use for the drug, my asthma doesn’t react well to any kind of smoke and I don’t feel the need to get high to enjoy life but if there are major side effects, why not regulate the substance as we do for such a known carcinogen, cigarettes?

    2) By focusing efforts on abuses of the drug instead of mere possession or small scale sales, the bulk of people arrested, charged, and fined/sentenced to valuable jail/prison beds currently appears to be for possession and such, not impaired driving/flying/boating, or other crimes, we will get more bang for our buck by putting the real criminals behind bars. Get in an accident or commit another crime while high, face the consequences. Most people don’t want to spend more money to jail druggies that aren’t hurting anyone but themselves and thanks to the number of prison beds tied up by inmates or those awaiting trial who are incarcerated for pot alone, we see armed robbers, rapists, murderers, and all sorts of truly evil predators only serve part of their sentences. Even if we were to locally follow the state mandate where officers wrote tickets for pot offenses, that’s a lot of beds in Harris County that can be devoted to other types of crime.

  7. Paul Kubosh says:

    Steven, you and I will never agree on this. I do not find your arguments persuasive. I totally reject them. I know I am in the minority. The new moral majority is taking over. I and my kind are a dying breed.

  8. Steve Houston says:

    PK, the war on drugs failed and most of the reasoning for banning various drugs was based on lies. Embrace those lies as you see fit, that is your prerogative, but public policy decisions should be based on facts, not emotions. As disdainful as I find such substances, the cost of enforcement vs. their actual impact is way out of line with what most are willing to pay, even the tea bag crowd coming around of late. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to persuade you that your personal morality should go with the flow, just that imposing it on others without valid reasoning doesn’t grant you martyrdom or the moral high ground. Take Care. 🙂

  9. Paul A Kubosh says:

    Nice try to bait into a discussion of Morality. I still agree with you more than I disagree. Take care.

  10. Steve Houston says:

    PK, my gentle nudge on the path you laid out is admitted but remember that you were the one implying you were taking a moral high ground when you said, “I know I am in the minority. The new moral majority is taking over. I and my kind are a dying breed.” Decriminalizing or even legalizing the substance doesn’t mean the masses that don’t use it now will jump on the bandwagon just as there is not a soul out there that can’t get what he wants despite current laws. I wouldn’t be interested in getting high were the status to change any more than you would be. And yes, we generally agree much more than disagree, have a blessed week. 🙂

  11. C.L. says:

    Props to you, Steve. You valiantly attempted to poke holes in Paul’s [nonsensical] aversion to legalization, albeit to no avail. Interesting read for Paul in his spare time, “The Emperor Wears No Clothes: Hemp and the Marijuana Conspiracy”.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    Paul,

    I’ve got to disagree with you on this one. If DUI-marijuana is troubling for you, make the penalty a mandatory 10 years in jail or death if there is an accident. Whatever punishment you want is OK with me. However, criminalizing pot just because it’s immoral in your eyes? Sorry, I can’t go along with that.

    For an example of why using the law to criminalize immorality is wrong, see the Taliban, ISIS, or any of the other Islamic paradises. You can still look down your nose at those long haired hippie freaks, but using cops to bust them because you don’t think getting high is appropriate behavior is just as bad as tossing gays off of rooftops because you don’t agree with their lifestyle choice.