In Texas, possession of marihuana can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the amount possessed. Less than 2 ounces of marihuana is a class B misdemeanor. Less than 4 ounces of marihuana is a class A misdemeanor. 4 ounces to 5lbs of marihuana is a state jail felony. 5lbs to 50lbs of marihuana is a third degree felony. 50lbs to 2000lbs of marihuana is a second degree felony. Over 2000lbs of marihuana is a first degree felony.
In some Texas counties, people caught with less than 4 ounces of marihuana receive citations. ABC 13 reports that Harris County refuses to issue citations and instead prefers to arrest persons with small amounts of marihuana. The article estimates that each arrest costs the county approximately $2,000. Last year alone, nearly 10,000 people were arrested for marihuana possession in Harris County. Get your calculator and do the math on that one!
To Arrest or Ticket. The question really is where does the county wish to allocate its financial resources and jail bed space. It is well-documented that Harris County inmates are being shipped to Louisiana because of overcrowding.
Most persons arrested for such a small amount of marijuana have bonds as low as $500, which would only cost about $75 to bond out. As a local criminal lawyer, my experience is that the final disposition of a marijuana case is typically probation consisting of community service and random urinalysis.
Therefore, although statutorily possible, incarceration is never really an issue for misdemeanor drug cases. Similiar to traffic tickets, there is no reason to arrest people who are not facing jail time. Police officers only “arrest on traffic” as a pretext to conduct an otherwise illegal search, but that is a whole different issue.
What would be different if the night in jail was replaced with a written citation? Would less people appear for their court dates? Maybe, but then you would just put a warrant out for their arrest and add an additional charge for failure to appear.
Travis County is already writing citations and Dallas County will begin the practice soon. These counties are not saying that marijuana is not a problem. They are just choosing to approach the issue with a different approach.
Taxpayers and friends of logic and reason, what do you all think?