by Colt DeMorris, El Paso NORML Executive DirectorNovember 19, 2019

Last week, City Representatives Alexsandra Anello (District 2) and Dr. Sam Morgan (District 4) filed a resolution seeking to implement a Cite and Release program after working closely with members of El Paso NORML and LegalizEP.

The resolution sought to end arrests for misdemeanor marijuana possession which would include anything under 4 ounces. A Class A misdemeanor is defined as 2 to 4 ounces, while a Class B is under 2 ounces.

The resolution originally had an item number of 20.5, meaning that it was most likely to be heard after the City Council’s break at noon. Once the regular agenda opened up, Representative Sam Morgan motioned for the item to be brought to the fore-front of the agenda. The motion was seconded and moved up.

Ten people signed up to speak in support of the resolution. Among those who attended and spoke were State Representative Joe Moody, Assistant District Attorney and candidate for District Attorney, James Montoya, myself in my capacity as El Paso NORML’s Executive Director, Michael Castro from LegalizEP, as well as Michael Short, President of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association. Mr. Short was the only one to speak in opposition of the resolution.

As the resolution was being discussed, Rep. Cissy Lizarraga had reservations about it because she felt that it wasn’t the City Manager’s position to implement the cite and release program, as well as voicing her opinion that the El Paso District Attorney and Chief of Police should be involved and have a say. She firmly stated that she would vote no.

Representative Henry Rivera, who is a former law enforcement officer himself, cited that the City of El Paso already has a program like this – the First Chance Program. He also echoed Lizarraga’s concerns saying he believes that the Sheriff and Chief of Police should be brought to the table for discussion. Rivera not only stated he would vote no, he also motioned for the resolution to be deleted of the agenda. His motion to deleted was seconded by Lizarraga. The “First Chance” program that Rep. Rivera mentioned only targets those who have never been arrested and have no other charges when the marijuana is found by law enforcement. As State Representative Joe Moody pointed out, the First Offender Program targets the offender. Our cite and release resolution targets the offense.

Next to speak on the issue was Representative Sam Morgan. As one of the representatives that filed the resolution, he described why he was in support of the resolution, citing fiscal responsibility and over crowding of jails, among other reasons.

Representative Peter Svarzbein was curious as to how things worked, so he reached out to Joe Moody to ask questions. One thing he wanted clarification on was facts Joe Moody provided regarding the Texas Department of Public Safety policy stating that DPS Troopers are to Cite and Release for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. Rep. Svarzbein highlighted that with DPS already doing cite and release, it is a state wide policy that is already in affect. He also agreed, as with Lizarrage and Rivera, that the Chief of Police and Sheriff should be brought in on the conversation. You could tell that he was in support of the idea of cite and release.

Representatives Hernandez and Salcido called for more information to be provided, information from jurisdictions that already have cite and release.

Rep. Salcido motioned for changes to be made to the amendment. The changes were in regard to the wording of the resolution. To not have it voted down or deleted, Salcido motioned to change the language so the resolution didn’t read as to automatically implement cite and release upon the date stated in the resolution. Instead, she saved it so it would keep the conversation alive.

After discussion, you can tell that a majority supported the idea of cite and release but most of them wanted more information on how the program works and statistics showing what the program does.

After all of those from the public and signed up, and Council finished saying what they had to say, the two motions had to be voted on. The first motion, as they go in order, was Rivera’s Motion to Delete. The vote came back 2 – 6, with Reps. Rivera and Lizarraga being the 2 yes votes to delete the item from the agenda. The rest of the 6 council members voted no to the deletion.

Following that vote, they voted on the Motion by Salcido that amended the language as to not actually implement a program, but to show support on implementing a cite and release program once they have researched and gathered information from other jurisdictions. The vote came back 6 – 2, with the only no votes of representatives not in support was again from Rivera and Lizarraga. The resolution passed.

With the passage of this resolution, it say that El Paso City Council is ready for a discussion on ending arrests of those in El Paso that possess marijuana that would be considered a misdemeanor; anything under 4 ounces.

The resolution, research and implementation of a cite and release program will be followed up at a council meeting suspected to be shortly after the new year. El Paso isn’t in the clear just yet.

This is major news coming out of the city where prohibition started in 1915, 22 years before the federal prohibition. We’re doing it, we are ending prohibition where it started.