Dallas Will No Longer Prosecute Small Time Marijuana Offenders

The Dallas County district attorney released a five page memo on Thursday stating that his office would no longer prosecute first-time marijuana misdemeanors. John Creuzot also announced that all in-process first-time misdemeanors that had been filed before his term in office will be thrown out, part of what he called “a step forward in ending mass incarceration in Dallas County.”

The memo addressed a variety of changes in enforcement priorities that go beyond marijuana offenders. Creuzot’s office will not be prosecuting individuals with small possession charges involving other drugs, people who drove with a suspended license, or anyone caught stealing “necessary” items.

“The criminal justice system has fallen disproportionately harshly on poor people and people of color, that’s just a fact,” Creuzot said to the Texas Observer. “The entire system is complicit in this dysfunction. We’re doing what we can within this office to address some of that.”

Shifts in policy were expected from Creuzot. He arrived to last year’s DA race promising to work on cash bail reform and shrink Dallas’ massive prison population, which sees the booking of around 67,000 people a year.

“Our current system is uncoupled from physical safety and fairness, as people sit in jail not because they pose an identifiable danger to the community, but because they cannot pay their fee to go home,” Creuzot wrote in the memo. “When low-income people are held in jail simply because they cannot afford a few hundred dollars, they lose their jobs, housing, stability, and cannot take care of their children: this makes our communities less safe.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety has released numbers stating that around 379,000 residents have been arrested in the last five years for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. Their detainment and prosecution costs the state $730 million each year, according to Representative Joe Moody from El Paso.

Two weeks ago, Moody’s third attempt at a cannabis decriminalization bill made it out of committee. It would scale back the maximum punishment for small time possession from 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine to a $250 penalty. “We are very optimistic about the chances of HB 63 passing on the floor of the Texas House,” said the director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy Heather Fazio at the time.

Creuzot is far from the first public defender to free up their docket from low level marijuana offenses. In fact, across the United States — and even in places that have yet to see the legalization of recreational marijuana — law enforcement agencies are taking matters into their own hands, and making moves that seem to anticipate that measures to decriminalize marijuana will be taken shortly in their jurisdiction. New York’s Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced that his office would dismiss 35 outstanding bench warrants for minor marijuana offenses in February, echoing a decision made by neighboring city Buffalo to no longer pursue small time marijuana offenders.

Shifting law enforcement standards are not the only area in which Texas has seen movement on widening access to cannabis. The Department of State Health Services made a move to take hemp off its list of controlled substances early this month. That decision puts the state in a prime position to benefit economically from last year’s U.S. Farm Bill, which made it legal for farmers to enter the hemp industry. Earlier this year, Canadian company Village Farms International secured a Nasdaq listing in preparation for opening a facility to grow hemp in Texas.

There are also a record-setting number of bills being considered by the state legislature that would widen access to the state’s scant, but existing medical marijuana program.

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Upper New York Police Issue Caution After Seizing Fentanyl-Laced Weed

Police departments in upstate New York are issuing a warning about dangerous street drugs after seizing cannabis laced with fentanyl. The powerful drug has been a factor in a multitude of overdose deaths in the United States, which is still in the grips of an epidemic of opioid addiction.

The Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office said that marijuana that was confiscated by officers in the parking lot of a Walmart in the town of Thompson on Monday had tested positive for fentanyl. The sheriff’s office said that it was the first time the drug had been discovered in the area.

In a separate incident in the town of Knox on Thursday, first responders had to revive three people who had overdosed in a car while still in the middle of the road, according to Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple. Another driver who had come upon the car on the road and discovered the stricken trio had called 911 for assistance.

Although claims of pot laced with fentanyl have been made in the past, many maintain the reports are fake news.

Dangerous Opioid

Fentanyl is a strong synthetic analgesic opioid that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine. It is sold legally by prescription in lozenge and patch form under the brand names Actiq, Duragesic, and, Sublimaze. Other drugs including heroin have been found to be laced with illicit fentanyl on numerous occasions. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, street names for fentanyl or for fentanyl-laced heroin include Apache, China Girl, China White, Dance Fever, Friend, Goodfella, Jackpot, Murder 8, TNT, and Tango and Cash. Counterfeit oxycodone tablets have also been found to be manufactured from fentanyl. The USA Today has reported that in 2016, 29 percent of all overdose deaths were associated with fentanyl.

Drugs can be tested for fentanyl contamination with strips that can be purchased at some drug stores or online, without a prescription and without special credentials, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. To use them, a small amount of a drug is placed in water, followed by the test strip, which will indicate the presence of fentanyl.

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