San Marcos becomes first city in Texas to issue cite-and-release law for cannabis possession


Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

A cite-and-release ordinance was passed by San Marcos City Council on Tuesday, April 21. Thanks to the Council’s vote, low-level criminal offenses – including cannabis possession to the amount of four ounces – will now be punishable by citations. Class C misdemeanors – like assault, family violence, and public intoxication – are also included in the motion.

While cite-and-release ordinances have also been adopted in the nearby cities of Austin and San Antonio, San Marcos beat them to the finishing line when it codified the measure into law with a 4-3 vote; voting against the motion was Ed Mihalkanin, Saul Gonzales and Mayor Jane Hughson, whereas Council members Joca Marquez, Mark Rockeymoore, Maxfield Baker and Melissa Derrick voted in favor of it.

No other city in Texas has utilized this force of law to prompt police citations for low-level, nonviolent crimes. The new rule encourages officers to push for a simple court appearance, as opposed to an arrest. Aside from cannabis possession, the new cite-and-release ordinance in San Marcos will relieve arrest burdens among individuals who are charged with theft of services, petty theft, criminal behavior, graffiti, driving with an expired/invalid license.

San Marcos’ cite-and-release ordinance: New law could stamp out unfairness among certain populations 

Back in 2018, police officers in San Marcos made arrests in 87 percent of situations whereby a citation could have been a suitable alternative. This information – which comes courtesy of Hays County data – tells us that police officer time has been severely drained by unnecessary arrests.

Aside from the fact that high rates of arrest could be avoided, “certain populations are being arrested more than others.” This is according to Rockeymoore, who admittedly voted in favor of the San Marcos cite-and-release ordinance for this very reason. 

“We believe this ordinance will send a strong, clear message to the police union and everyone else that we would like our officers to exercise their discretion within certain parameters,” Rockeymoore said after the San Marcos cite-and-release ordinance was issued. 

As per orders from the mayor and the San Marcos police chief, the ordinance was made effective on May 31. This date was agreed upon by the City Council as a way of ensuring that the police department could get up-to-scratch on an updated set of training rules and policies. 

San Marcos’ cite-and-release ordinance: City Council received some opposition 

Following the successful vote that saw a city in Texas adopt a cite-and-release ordinance, the City Council received around 50 emails disagreeing with its implementation. On the plus side, far outweighing the negative emails were the 170-or-so that celebrated its passing. 

San Marcos Mayor Jane Hughson wasn’t exactly jumping for joy when the ordinance gained an adequate number of votes to pass. Hughson prefers existing Texas law and although she has enabled officers to issue citations for the aforementioned crimes, an arrest can still take place in fitting situations.

“I have fears that there could be some serious unintended consequences from this. I’d prefer we give direction perhaps a resolution to ensure that we don’t cause new problems that do not exist now,” said Hughson during a virtual council meeting. 

Some justifiable reasons for arrest under the terms of cite-and-release ordinance include:

  • If the person does not reside in Hays County;
  • is unwilling to provide proper proof of identification;
  • is in danger of causing themselves and/or others harm;
  • is believed to have committed a crime not contained in the ordinance;
  • has an existing warrant held against him/her;
  • dictates a ruling before a magistrate.  

Anita Gupta of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center was the original author of the draft cite-and-release ordinance, which has now been enacted across the City of San Marcos. Time will tell whether or not the rest of Texas will follow in the city’s footsteps.