Texas is often considered one of the toughest states when it comes to bringing down the furious hammer of justice on those busted for marijuana-related offenses.
A new report, however, indicates that prosecutors in counties that make up the majority of the state’s population are now dismissing more cases involving minor possession.
According to a recent analysis by the Austin American-Statesman, five of the most highly populated areas of the Lone Star State – Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis – have been experiencing a decline in criminal prosecutions for petty pot offenses over the past five years, mostly because prosecutors are getting tired of dealing with these cases on a daily basis.
"Nobody goes through three years of law school and becomes prosecutors so they can rap the knuckles of someone for smoking a joint," said Shannon Edmonds with the Texas District and County Attorney's Association.
This trend appears to be happening more in the northern part of the state, where, in Dallas County, for example, 18 percent of the pot-related cases were dismissed in 2011. That number has since risen to 41 percent.
Unfortunately, while more prosecutors are moving to dismiss minor marijuana cases, it appears that law enforcement agencies all across the state are continuing to take people into custody for this offense at a record breaking pace. In 2011, there were 61,182 arrests for marijuana possession, according to data provided by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. This number increased to 71,069 the following year.
One of the biggest reasons for the increase in dismissals for marijuana cases appears to be public opinion.
Travis County prosecutor told the Statesman that many jurors now have the attitude that marijuana possession is not an offense that should be dealt with inside a courtroom.
“Jurors would look at us like we are crazy," he said. "'You are spending your time, our time and the court's time on a small amount of personal marijuana?'”
Although various municipalities have attempted to run cite-and-release programs for small time pot offenders, the inability to find some level of synergy with respect to these programs has prompted more cases to be dealt with in court. The sad but true fact of the matter is most cases involving pot possession are still being treated as a criminal offense, complete with the potential for jail time and thousands of dollars in fines.
Yet, if the trend continues, the tides could see a shift in the coming years, with the majority of the pot possession cases resulting in dismissal. This will give state lawmakers no choice but to decriminalize the herb or legalize it in a manner similar to what’s happening right now in Colorado. In fact, the word on the street is that lawmakers and activists are planning to make another push in early 2017 to eliminate the criminal penalties for simple possession.
Legislation is expected to be pre-filed in the coming months.