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Oklahoma City has recently modified its city ordinances to lower the punishments for marijuana and paraphernalia possession.

click to enlarge After the legalization of medical marijuana, Oklahoma City Police updated the city’s laws regarding possession. - BIGSTOCK.COM
  • After the legalization of medical marijuana, Oklahoma City Police updated the city’s laws regarding possession.

Getting busted with your bag or bong in Oklahoma City is now a lot less painful. You’ll still lose your stash, but you won’t be taking a trip to jail in handcuffs.

On Oct. 26 — the same day medical marijuana became legal in the state — city police changed their enforcement tactics.

Chapter 30 of the city’s municipal code now states that those in possession of marijuana will face up to a $400 fine and no jail time. The previous possible punishment was a fine up to $1,200 and up to six months in the Oklahoma County jail.

Similarly, possession of drug paraphernalia is now a $50 fine, down from $200 and the possibility of 10 days behind bars.

By police policy, on a third offense, officers will arrest the offender and he or she will have to face a judge who might decide to send them to drug treatment. Jail time will still be off the table, and the fine will remain the same.

“Possession of marijuana is considered such a minor offense anymore,” said Oklahoma City police chief Bill Citty. “The views on it are changing. Whether or not you think it’s harmful or whether or not it has medical use is not really the issue for me to decide.”

Since the municipal code had to be amended to include medical marijuana anyway, Citty thought it was an ideal time to modify other parts of the ordinance.

“I’ve wanted to do it for several years now,” he said. “I have never been in favor of totally legalizing marijuana, but I have thought for quite some time that the penalty is too extreme and too high compared to some of the other things that we penalize people for. I’ve wanted to make the changes for a while. A lot of stuff is just timing, especially if you’re changing culturally.”

Citty compared the new cite-and-release policy to other low-level offenses like trespassing and some forms of minor assaults.

“We’ve just come to realize that putting somebody in jail is not necessarily a deterrent, so to try to be more fair and deal with things in a more justifiable way, we’ll be writing tickets and releasing,” Citty said.

Dropping it from Class B offense — which would require a court hearing to resolve — will help cut city costs. Not having to make an arrest will not only keep more officers on the streets to deal with more serious crimes, but it will also save the city money by not having to pay the jail to keep the arrested individual.

“The city reaps the benefits of somebody paying for their fine, but believe me, the city can’t run its business on that, nor can we enforce the law based on the fact that we want the revenue. That’s not why you police,” Citty said. “It may help, but it doesn’t pay the bills.”

click to enlarge Police chief Bill Citty said citizens will still be held accountable though the penalties for possession have lessened. - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Police chief Bill Citty said citizens will still be held accountable though the penalties for possession have lessened.

Oklahoma City police officers also do not have a quota system, nor are they rewarded for the number of arrests they make or citations they issue.

Regardless of the more relaxed penalties, Citty stresses that marijuana possession is not decriminalized in OKC.

“The use of drugs is and probably always should be a violation of the law as far as I’m concerned. To what extent do we do that? Because a fine, a penalty, should be a deterrent. It should either deter someone from doing it or should deter them from continuing to do it. What’s reasonable and what does that? Does putting them in jail do it? Well, no; we’ve already shown that doesn’t do it,” Citty said.

Since marijuana possession and paraphernalia possession are still crimes in Oklahoma, the items will be confiscated by officers and booked into the property room as evidence. Citty said forfeited items will eventually be destroyed.

“We can’t let you keep it just like we can’t let a juvenile keep that beer or alcohol,” he said. “Besides, police officers have to be accountable for anything they take off of somebody.”

And the city ordinance does not apply to distributing marijuana. If scales and other indicators of a drug deal, like large amounts of cash, are also found, the accused will likely be arrested and face a felony charge in state court, Citty said.

Like underage drinkers, juveniles found with marijuana will not be released in the field.

Medical marijuana license-holders will be exempt. If you have one but do not have it on you, you will still be cited and the pot will still be taken. If you can prove you were able to legally possess it, Citty said, it will be up to a judge whether or not to return it.

State laws regarding driving under the influence also remain unchanged.

Police will still rely on sobriety tests and a totality of circumstances to determine if a motorist is driving high.

There is not currently a blood or breath test available that can determine the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the main psychoactive compound in cannabis — at the time of arrest. Citty said things like physical impairment, red and glassy eyes and the smell of burned marijuana give officers indication that drivers are impaired behind the wheel.

“Anybody that thinks they can smoke marijuana and they can go out and drive and not get caught, well, they’re fooling themselves because that’s not the case,” Citty said.

Citty said criminal justice reforms have led to the agency making fewer arrests overall and marijuana possession arrests have been trending downward as well.

Multiple requests for the number of people arrested for marijuana possession in OKC in recent years were not answered by the police department.

“It’s still a crime. You still need to be held accountable. ... We’re not going to let people off the hook; we’re just going to be more fair about it,” Citty said. “If you would have brought this before me or had me consider it five, six, seven years ago, I would have said no. But it has a lot to do with the changes in how society accepts something and how it’s looked at. ... We have to evolve also in law enforcement.” 

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