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El Paso considers allowing marijuana users to avoid arrest through ‘cite and release’ policy

A man holds a small amount of marijuana in his hand.
Lakana file
A man holds a small amount of marijuana in his hand.

EL PASO, Texas -- El Paso city representatives don’t want to call it decriminalization -- but if city leaders pass a new law, people with small amounts of marijuana will not be arrested.

The proposed city law has the support of State Rep. Joe Moody, who is also the Texas House Speaker Pro Temp.

The proposed law is called “cite and release” because if approved, people caught with small amounts of marijuana would receive a citation, be released and asked to return for their court date. Right now, marijuana users are arrested and taken to county jail.

City leaders on Tuesday called on their staff to review how law enforcement agencies in the Borderland feel about the proposed law and then return with recommendations.

The violation would be considered a class A or B misdemeanor. City representatives have not yet determined what a small amount of marijuana entails. But in April, the Texas House of Representatives signed off on a bill that would reduce Texas' penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana to a class C misdemeanor.

"’Cite and release’ is saying we're not changing the sanction; we're just changing the way we bring you into the criminal justice system. So, rather than arresting you for a class A or Class B possession, we're going to cite you and ask you to come to court like you would for a traffic offense and you answer for those crimes later," explained Moody.

A spokesman for the El Paso Municipal Police Officers’ Association said the group was not in favor of any measure that would decriminalize pot.

Tuesday's vote to move forward with this measure was 6-2 with representatives Henry Rivera and Cissy Lizarraga voting no.

According to the Texas Tribune, the state Department of Public Safety told its officers in July to stop arresting violators for small amounts of marijuana. For DPS, they are only citing for any amount under a misdemeanor offense, which is four ounces.

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Saul Saenz


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