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Marijuana cases are down in Dallas County, but Black residents are being arrested at higher rates

Marijuana
David McNew
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Getty Images

The number of misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions in Dallas County declined from 2018 to 2019, but Black residents continue to be arrested at higher rates, according to a report by SMU's Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center.

A report from SMU's Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center finds that although Dallas County sent fewer misdemeanor marijuana cases to prosecutors in 2019, racial disparities continue.

Fewer, Not Fairer compares 2018 to 2019, when Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot took office saying he wanted to eliminate arrests for minor marijuana possession.

“Volume is easy and disparity is hard,” Pamela Metzger, Director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center said.

Reducing racial disparity in marijuana prosecutions was among Creuzot’s earliest priorities, but the report found that decreasing the volume of marijuana cases does not eliminate disparity.

It shows Black people in six Dallas County cities— Richardson, Garland, Mesquite, Grand Prairie, Dallas and Irving — were 4.4 times more likely to be arrested for misdemeanor marijuana in 2019 than non-Black residents. This is a jump from 4 times more likely in 2018.

“Despite the fact that we have far fewer referrals being sent to the office, they're not any fairer. If anything, it actually becomes more disparate,” Victoria Smiegocki, a co-author of the report said.

Currently in Texas, possession of between 2 and 4 ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to 1 year and a fine not to exceed $4,000.

Possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, which can be punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. A conviction for a Class C misdemeanor results in a fine of no more than $500.

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Christopher Connelly
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KERA News

In early 2019, Creuzot told law enforcement agencies in Dallas County that his office would not prosecute cases of minor marijuana possession. Later, he announced a policy that would require a laboratory report to be accompanied with any marijuana possession referral sent to his office.

Metzger said these changes and new policies are leading to a shift.

“The D.A. won't accept the cases for prosecution. The Texas legislature is messing around with things (policies). Now it's going to be expensive to get a lab report. And by the way, the D.A.'s office won't look at your case until it comes in,” Metzger said.

Texas law changed in June 2019 to legalize hemp, which has less than 0.3% of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

In the city of Dallas, Police Chief Eddie Garcia announced earlier this year the department would cut back and not arrest a person for possession of fewer than 2 ounces of marijuana unless a more serious infraction was involved.

Some larger police departments in North Texas, like Plano, have changed their policies to issue citations for possession of marijuana, when it is less than a certain amount.

And in Tarrant County, District Attorney Sharen Wilson says rehabilitation is a better way to deal with drugs — charges would be dropped if the person passes three drug tests in three months to prove they’re staying sober.

There will now be many more fences to jump in order to prosecute someone for low-level marijuana possession, and Metzger says that might be a solution to eliminating racial injustice.

“You eliminate disparity by eliminating the source — the option of arresting someone for these offenses,” Metzger said.

This is the third of five reports from the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center looking at racial disparities in Dallas County marijuana prosecution.

Got a tip? Alejandra Martinez is a Report For America corps member for KERA News. Email Alejandra at amartinez@kera.org. You can follow Alejandra on Twitter @alereports.

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Corrected: November 2, 2021 at 7:23 PM CDT
A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot told law enforcement agencies to stop arrests for minor marijuana possession. Creuzot said his office would not prosecute those cases.