When a person is in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana, the Class B misdemeanor usually results with an arrest and a trip to jail for the offender — that’s not the case in Pharr anymore.
The city’s police department will begin the implementation of its new cite-and-release policy this week, which allows police to issue a citation and release anyone caught with less than 2 oz of marijuana in their possession.
“It’s important to note that this policy does not decriminalize anything, rather can provide a more dignified option for a low-level offense,” Pharr Police Chief Andy Harvey said in a news release Wednesday. “We are partnering with the Hidalgo County DA’s office and our own municipal judge to make this possible. These are critical partnerships that when working together, can make a difference in our communities.”
The new policy enacted by the department is governed by Article 14.06 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and enacted as HB 2391 by the 80th Texas State Legislature in 2007, officials said.
Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pharr Police Department said it adopted and implemented the policy to minimize the number of individuals being jailed for certain low-level misdemeanor offenses; in this case, possession of less than 2 oz of marijuana.
“Our office supports the efforts of the Pharr Police Department, and any other law enforcement agency, to implement this policy as allowable by state law,” Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said in the release. “It is important that our community understand that the offense is not excusable and is still punishable by law, but this adds a level of flexibility to reduce our jail population.”
The police department says there are six prerequisites to qualify for this enforcement action:
>> The offense must be possession of marijuana and it must weigh less than two oz
>> The offense must occur in Pharr
>> The suspect must reside in Hidalgo County
>> The suspect must be in possession of a valid driver’s license or identification
>> The suspect must be 17 years of age or older
>> Possession of marijuana must be the only offense the suspect is subject for arrest
Officers will still have the discretion to arrest or release the individual at the scene.
“This gives our officers a reasonable alternative to an arrest at the scene if the requirements are met,” Harvey said. “I believe this is another step in our efforts to police in a manner that adds value to the community.”
If released at the scene, individuals will still be arraigned at the city’s municipal court within 14 days of the incident, but will be released on a personal recognizance bond.
According to the release, the possession of marijuana case will still be completed by the police department’s detectives and sent to the DA’s office.
“The offenders will still be held responsible for the offenses committed, but this will help to expedite justice in a fair and responsive manner,” Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez said in the release, praising Harvey’s leadership.