EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Some El Paso city leaders are looking to lessen the penalty for being caught with certain amounts of marijuana and said it could be a small step toward criminal justice reform.
City Council voted 6-2, Reps. Henry Rivera and Cissy Lizarraga voting no, to move forward and look at ways to potentially implement a “Cite and Release” program for anyone carrying four ounces or less of marijuana.
El Paso State Representative Joe Moody made his case in favor of the program before council on Tuesday, “We’re not changing any of the underlying laws. We’re saying we’re not going to arrest you or bring you into the criminal justice system. We are going to cite like we do at the roadside.”
The program would apply for Class A and Class B misdemeanors which would apply for anyone carrying as much as four ounces or less than 2 ounces of pot.
“If there isn’t anything else going on other than mere possession, we are not going to waste officer time and resources. We’re not going to waste county time to house you in the jail. We’re going to allow you to answer for that crime later in court,” Moody explained.
Although other jurisdictions in the state have implemented this program, City Reps. said they still need to gather more information on how El Paso would benefit or be affected.
“They need to be able to understand the entirety of facts from a law enforcement perspective. Nobody went to Chief Allen as far as I know,” Michael Short, President of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association said, “He wasn’t in the room today. No data presented. Everybody has an opinion but they want to be a silo around their opinion.”
Rep. Moody said this could also bring a financial benefit along with more focus on what he believes could improve the criminal justice system.
“There’s a cost associated with housing individuals in our jail system. That’s an immediate cost-benefit for the county. For city it’s going to be a little more harder to quantify because you’re talking about time savings for our officers. But if they’re not doing this, they’re out doing other things,” Moody explained, “So this also helps us prioritize our criminal justice laws so let’s focus on the people we’re afraid, of not that we’re mad at.”
City staff is expected to meet with DPS officials, the District Attorney’s office, local law enforcement, and other stakeholders to gather data and see if this program could work for El Paso.