Hernandez Rolls Out Pot Paper

Hernandez advocates for de-prioritization of arrests for first-time minor possession of marijuana offenders

Sally Hernandez
Sally Hernandez (Photo Source: GNI Strategies)

Travis County Sheriff candidate Sally Her­nandez released a white paper Thursday morning outlining her advocacy for the de-prioritization of arrests for first-time offenders of Texas' minor possession of marijuana law, which covers possession of all amounts under 2 ounces.

Currently, the state's Health and Safety Code stipulates that anybody caught with an amount of marijuana under 2 ounces is subject to Class B misdemeanor charges, which carry a county jail penalty not to exceed 180 days and a fine of no more than $2,000. Hernandez's plan takes inspiration from a policy implemented by Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who redirects first-time small-amount offenders toward an intervention program: a 60-90 day probationary period, a $100 program fee, and either eight hours of community service or an eight-hour cognitive class.

"I would not be the one prosecuting those cases. I would just be the one encouraging my officers not to arrest on minor possession of marijuana," Hernandez told the Chron­icle on Tuesday, adding that she would set policies for her officers to use cite-and-release practices, rather than arresting first-time violators. "I would be going to the county attorney's office and commissioners court and lobbying for this program to be here in Travis County."

Hernandez draws many of her conclusions from studies conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union. Citing statistics compiled in the organization's June 2013 report "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," she notes the racial disparities often found in marijuana busts – that blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, yet blacks in Travis County are 3.3 times more likely to be arrested for possession (1,011 arrests to 311). The crux of the proposal hinges both on racial disparities with regard to law enforcement, but also on the way the county uses time and resources. The ACLU notes that 2010 saw 53% of violent crimes, 44% of aggravated assaults, 82% of property crimes, and 72% of robberies go unsolved. Hernandez believes time spent currently handling minor marijuana busts could be better redirected toward handling the aforementioned offenses. The ACLU reports that it costs a county roughly $3,300 to prosecute each minor possession of marijuana offense.

"The resources spent on this could be spent on [prosecuting] more violent crimes," she said. "The financial part is important. But the ultimate, to me, is just creating a law enforcement policy that makes it fair when it comes to first-time possession charges, and how people are handled, no matter what their race is."

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Sally Hernandez, marijuana laws, American Civil Liberties Union, Travis County Sheriff candidate

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