El Paso NORML attempts passing Cite and Release law

Jasmine Aguilera, Editor-in-chief

The night of Minerpalooza, Steve found himself facing two police officers. There was a heavy aroma coming from his car, so they began questioning him about his use of marijuana. He admitted to smoking that morning, so the officers decided to search his vehicle.

He had been pulled over for speeding, but after searching his car, the officers found that he was in possession of a small amount of pot.

Steve, a junior digital media major, asked that his last name not be used in this story. He received a citation that night, but was not arrested because the officers only found less than a gram.

Students who have a possession charge on their record may lose their eligibility to receive financial aid grants or scholarships if the offense occurred while the student was receiving federal aid. For that reason, Steve took the citation to a lawyer and is now in the process of trying to get the charges dropped.

El Paso’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws is attempting to change the way the city’s judicial system handles incidents of possession.

In early June of 2014, El Paso NORML began a petition to establish a Cite and Release law in El Paso, which has already been passed by the state of Texas. This policy calls for bypassing the arrest process for anyone caught in possession of less than four ounces of marijuana.

“In my opinion, I think this is exactly the way cases should be handled,” Steve said. “Today’s laws just aren’t on the correct path. Why arrest someone for such a little offense?”

El Paso NORML’s goal is to gather enough signatures to put the policy up for vote by City Council and then on next November’s ballot.

“It’s not decriminalizing, it’s not legalizing like many people think,” said Josh Dagda, communications director for El Paso NORML. “It’s actually trying to reprioritize the stance that city police take on marijuana. Instead of police focusing on arresting anyone with small amounts of marijuana, we want them to focus on violent crime.”

The group has gathered around 1,000 signatures, but need to reach 3,000. Dagda said the petition has taken a slow turn because many people fear the implications of putting their name on a public petition that may be considered controversial.

“A lot of people are very afraid of signing a petition like this because it puts them out,” he said. “They may be teachers, they may be respectable people in the community, they might be business men and they feel that something like this will hurt them even if they are not users.”

According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation Uniform Crime Report, marijuana possession made up 42.4 percent of all drug arrests in 2012, meaning there was one marijuana arrest made every 48 seconds.

NORML officials and some city representatives argue that implementing the Cite and Release law could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run.

According to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, it costs $120 of taxpayer money to arrest and book one person in an urban Texas county, and an extra $62.97 each day the person is detained.

At a Sept. 27 NORML meeting, organizers gathered a group of about 50 people at The Network in downtown El Paso. The group heard from guest speakers such as Republican 16th District Congressional candidate Corey Roen, Libertarian 16th District Congressional candidate Jaime Perez and City Council Representative Susie Byrd, who spoke on behalf of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-TX.

At the meeting, Perez spoke openly about being pro legalization of all recreational drugs.

“I don’t believe that the government has any role or say in dictating what a person can or cannot do with their body,” Perez said after the meeting. “To students I say, instead of allowing government to say what you can or cannot do with your body, you should be politically involved, vote and get people in office who are going to respect the principles of liberties.”

Jorge Salgado, junior multimedia journalism major, said he is against legalization of drugs with the exception of medicinal marijuana.

“Personally, I just believe that if it’s not happening for you naturally, you should stay from anything that’ll alter your state of mind,” Salgado said.

Even though he disagrees with the use of recreational marijuana, he does think the Site and Release law in El Paso will save taxpayer money.

Jasmine Aguilera may be reached at [email protected]