Mart police will now arrest people stopped with any usable amount of marijuana, including misdemeanor amounts that could be addressed with a ticket and court appearance.
“I don’t think this is a problem isolated the city of Mart, but what I decided we are going to do is take a hard stand,” Mart Police Chief Paul Cardenas said. “At this point, right now, that is the only stand I can take.”
Mart officers enacted the zero-tolerance marijuana policy last week in an effort to bolster the battle against drugs in the city of about 2,000 residents.
“Suspects know that if they carry 2 ounces or less, they will tell you to ‘go ahead and write me a ticket,’ ” Cardenas said. “When you are in charge of the public safety of your community, that changes your mind, and we can’t have that attitude in our city.”
Under state law, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, possession of 2 to 4 ounces is a Class A misdemeanor, and felony charges start with more weight. According to the code of criminal procedure, police are allowed to issue citations with a requirement to appear before a judge for misdemeanors, instead of arresting suspects, if the suspect resides in the county where the offense happened.
“Marijuana use has grown in any city, and I am not going to say Mart doesn’t have a problem with this issue,” Cardenas said. “I do, however, want to bring it to the forefront and let the community know that this will not be tolerated in our community.”
So far this month, Mart officers have made eight arrests. Four have been for drug-related offenses, police records indicate. In the last six months, Mart officers issued 44 citations for drug-related offenses. Cardenas said the majority of the citations have resulted in unpaid fines, which are followed up with arrest warrants.
“Obviously issuing tickets is not working when people are not paying the fines,” he said. “I want to take a more proactive approach because I have had people dictate to me that I should issue citations, but we have laws on the books that say how to enforce the law.”
Cardenas said his experience in the military and working with the Drug Enforcement Administration has impacted his drive to keep drugs out of Mart. Mart Mayor Pro Tem Henry Witt III said Mart police have the support of the city behind them in the new policy.
“I don’t think that what we are faced with from a drug standpoint is unique to the city of Mart, but I do think our approach to combating it is going to be a little more aggressive,” Witt said. “I think what this will do is send a message to the people who are bringing drugs into our town and let them know that we will not tolerate bringing drugs into our community.”
Several other cities in McLennan County also make arrests for usable amounts of marijuana. Officers in the cities of Waco, Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview also will not issue citations for marijuana offences.
“(Marijuana possession) is illegal, and until the state law changes, we are going to enforce the state law,” Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. “If it is a usable amount up to 2 ounces, it is a Class B misdemeanor, and we will put you in jail on a Class B misdemeanor.”
Lorena Police Chief Tom Dickson and Hewitt Police Chief Jim Devlin said officers can write citations for marijuana possession, but it often depends on the circumstances of the offense. Dickson said officers are told to look at the offense as a whole and consider several factors in deciding between a citation or an arrest.
“If it will take our only officer off the street for a few hours in order to transport a person to jail, then I am going to have to rely on the officer to use their best discretion,” Dickson said.
Devlin said Hewitt officers would typically ticket a suspect found with less than 2 ounces of marijuana unless another offense is involved. He said he also relies on officers to use their discretion and consider the situation as a whole in deciding whether to arrest or ticket a suspect.
“We can take anyone to jail for any usable amounts of marijuana, but we try to just use common sense and our best judgement in making those decisions,” Devlin said. “One of those decisions is to try to help keep beds free for higher status offenses at the county jail, but every city is different and every city faces different issues.”