County to Try Tickets Instead of Jail for Marijuana Misdemeanors

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Inside a hydroponic marijuana grow operation in South Texas. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Inside a hydroponic marijuana grow operation in South Texas.

Bexar County officials announced Wednesday the forthcoming implementation of a Cite and Release program, which will allow police officers to issue citations for certain non-violent misdemeanor offenses – marijuana possession under 4 ounces, for example.

Exact details of the program have yet to be finalized, but it will begin “in the near future,” said Bexar County Criminal District Attorney Nico LaHood, who made the announcement alongside Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Sheriff Javier Salazar.

“This program is designed with the intention of balancing community safety, fiscal responsibility for the taxpayers and opportunities for citizens of Bexar County,” LaHood said.

Once the policy is fully implemented, offenders will receive a court summons that will allow them to do community service, pay a fine, and participate in classes rather than be jailed for a crime. Along with Class A and B possession of marijuana, other offenses included in the program are Class B criminal mischief, Class B theft, Class B theft of services, and Class B driving with and invalid license.

“Functionally, it’s like a traffic ticket, but the consequences are more severe than a traffic ticket if they don’t follow the program’s criteria,” LaHood said.

 

District Attorney Nico LaHood.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

District Attorney Nico LaHood.

The program’s goal is to keep non-violent offenders out of the Bexar County jail, which is currently at maximum capacity. If participants complete the program’s 90-day requirements, their case will not enter the court or criminal justice system.

“We want to put in the jail people that are a threat to our community, and that’s what jails are for,” Wolff said. “And for non-violent, low-level offenses that we can treat in a different way, [this program] is the way to bring about good justice.”

Salazar also voiced his support for the program, saying it makes sense from a financial and resources perspective.

“I’m proud of what we’re doing here today,” the sheriff said.

The program is two years in the making, LaHood said, and is based on a law passed by the State Legislature in 2007. The bill lists the specific misdemeanor offenses that could warrant a citation as opposed to an arrest and gives law enforcement agencies the option of participating in such programs.

Offenses specifically not covered under the pilot program are Class A and B possession of synthetic marijuana, Class B graffiti, and Class B possession of contraband in a correctional facility.

LaHood said he consulted with San Antonio Police Chief William McManus prior to announcing the program, which will be evaluated and adjusted after six months if needed.

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