Possession of marijuana, in any form, is still illegal in Texas. The “cite and release” legislation that was passed in 2007 does not eliminate the possibility of jail time as punishment. It merely gives officers the ability to cite a person — or give them a summons to appear in court at a later date — to resolve the charge against them.
Even though the cite and release law has been on the books for a decade, few Texas cities and counties have actually implemented cite and release programs — but the list is growing.
On Friday, Dallas officials will begin a cite and release program, encouraging officers to cite and release, rather than arrest, people in possession of less than four ounces of marijuana in most circumstances. Houston, Austin and San Antonio are among large cities with similar programs in place.
Cite and Release for Misdemeanor Marijuana Charges
Cite and release does not decriminalize marijuana possession. Individuals who receive a summons and are released at the scene for a marijuana charge could still end up behind bars. If convicted, the punishment range for any usable amount of marijuana begins at a Class B misdemeanor and goes up to a first-degree felony, based on the amount of marijuana the police find. This means for even the lowest level marijuana charge, jail time is still a possibility.
There are no “fine-only” or ticketable offenses for having a usable amount of marijuana, although possession of drug paraphernalia is a Class C misdemeanor.
Cite and Release in Texas
Citing and releasing individuals accused of certain misdemeanors, including marijuana possession, has been an option since September 1, 2007, when the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Article 14.06 (c) allowed officers to use cite and release for individuals who:
1. lived in the county where the offense occurred
2. and is charged with:
- Possession of Marijuana under 2 Ounces (Class B)
- Possession of Marijuana between 2 and 4 Ounces (Class A)
- Possession of a Substance in Penalty Group 2-A under Two Ounces (Class B)
- Possession of a Substance in Penalty Group 2-A Two to Four Ounces (Class A)
- Criminal Mischief $100-750 (Class B)
- Graffiti $100-750 (Class B)
- Graffiti $750-2500 (Class A)
- Theft $100-750 (Class B)
- Theft $750-2500 (Class A)
- Theft of Services $100-750 (Class B)
- Theft of Services $750-2500 (Class A)
- Contraband in a Correctional Facility by an Employee or Volunteer
- Driving While License Invalid
Although the legislature has authorized cite and release for all the offenses listed above for a decade, individuals accused of these offenses continue to be arrested in most counties throughout the state. Individuals do not have a right to be cited and released – instead, the officer has the discretion to cite and release them. Additionally, even counties that have adopted cite and release policies largely focus on cite and release for misdemeanor amounts of marijuana.
Fiscally conservative counties, through the leadership of their elected district attorneys, cooperation of local law enforcement, and approval of county commissioners, have been embracing cite and release to better use the financial resources that are spent on booking, housing, and arraigning individuals charged with these offenses before the cases ever get to court. By taking advantage of this law, cities use their resources to house individuals charged with more serious crimes.
Again, cite and release does not reduce the possible sentence for any offense, including jail time. Cite and release is not available for any felony offense or for any violent offense. Possession of marijuana under two ounces is still punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine. Possession of marijuana between two and four ounces is still punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
This week, Dallas County joins the small, but growing, list of counties in Texas that have implemented cite and release policies. Other counties include Harris County, Travis County, and Bexar County. It will be interesting to see if cite and release continues to gain momentum in Texas.
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