EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – The city of El Paso is expected to spend more on public safety in fiscal year 2022 but one item in police line items drew criticism during Tuesday’s meeting.
The El Paso Police Department is looking for $72,000 to begin testing for suspected cannabis found on individuals during searches big and small. The effort would provide authorities with a clear answer on whether a suspected item is marijuana or hemp.
Two City Council representatives objected to the idea of testing for cases that involved small offenses as they argued the process contradicted recent policies enacted to address marijuana charges in the city. Both asked that the issue be discussed further during another meeting.
“I don’t believe that the city of El Paso should be testing that (small cases),” District 3 city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez said. “We have our neighboring states who are making it recreational, and ,so, I am concerned about the livelihoods and the future of El Pasoans who visit New Mexico.”
Law enforcement is looking to distinguish the two as the state legislature changed the definition of marijuana, which was done to legalize hemp. The state still outlaws the drug containing more than .3 percent THC, which is what causes a high.
In El Paso, the police department is looking to fund testing after receiving a letter from newly elected District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ office.
Deputy city manager Dionne Mack says the letter states cannabis testing results will be required when pursuing charges related to marijuana whether big or small.
“The letter specified anything that is going to be prosecuted by the DA’s office would require this level of testing,” she told the City Council on Tuesday.
Police chief Greg Allen echoed Mack’s answer to the council saying any charges related to marijuana would require testing.
Recently, the El Paso City Council approved ‘cite and release,’ which tickets residents for the offense but keeps residents caught with small trace amounts of marijuana out of jail. An early review of the impact on the ‘cite and release’ policy shows most cases involve teens and young adults.
At the county level, former District Attorney Jaime Esparza, and now, Rosales, have incorporated a “First Chance” program for early offenders caught with small traces of marijuana.
City Reps. Alexsandra Annello and Cassandra Hernandez did not object to testing in serious crimes but to cases that involved individuals with small amounts of marijuana that would fall within ‘cite and release’ or the county’s “First Chance” program.
“I am not sure why we would continue to test for small amounts of marijuana,” Annello said. “It’s contradictory to action this council has taken.”