The city of Dallas is changing the enforcement of laws regarding marijuana, also known as pot or weed. Beginning Oct.1, Dallas Police will begin enforcing a “cite and release policy”. Anyone caught with less than four ounces of marijuana will get a ticket and a day in court. Four ounces is equivalent to 96 grams, or about four sandwich bags full. That may seem more than an occasional user would carry but the fine can be up to $4,000 plus jail time if they don’t follow all the rules. School zones, like Richland, are exempt from this policy.
The Dallas City Council voted 10-5 for the new policy that is intended to refocus police time to more urgent issues. The city ordinance makes Dallas the first city in the state to make pass such regulations related to marijuana.
History professor Dr. Clive Siegle compares the efforts to decriminalize pot to the prohibition of alcohol. Reformers in the late 1800s banned the sale of alcohol in some states.
“By the late 1800s you had dry and wet states,” said Siegle. Alcohol was made illegal to sell or produce in the U.S. through the 18th Amendment in 1920. Constitutional amendments are proposed by Congress or two-thirds the state legislatures and then ratified by three-fourths of the states to become the law of the land. “When you do something on a constitutional basis you’re really doing a law that will stick,” Siegle said.
The Jazz Age of the 1920s however was filled with bootleggers and underground bars known as speakeasies where illegal booze was sold and consumed. Enough Americans regularly disregarded the law that it eventually became unpopular and the amendment was repealed in 1933.
“The reformers worried that excessive use of alcohol led to domestic violence but typically ethnic groups where alcohol was a part of the daily diet were much less prone to having those types of problems,” said Siegle. A famous writer of the era, F. Scott Fitzgerald, did not find prohibition to cure his alcoholism, which eventually contributed to his death. Fitzgerald once said, “First, you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”
According to Siegle, the enforcement of prohibition was a “burden on law enforcement.”
“Police were busting speakeasies and arresting accountants, school teachers and people who were on a night out. Not criminals. Not the people making the stuff. None of it,” said Siegle.
In comparison to Dallas’ cite and release policy, Siegle sees this as reverse prohibition.
“Rather than trying to close a petty crime shut, you’re opening it up step by step,” he said.
In other words the Dallas Police Department is not tolerating weed but changing its priorities to increase the efficiency of law enforcement. How it will actually work in Dallas has yet to be seen, but it’s an interesting experiment in how America deals with the problems of drugs and crime.