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UT Student Government rejects marijuana policy change

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TWC News: UT Student Government rejects marijuana policy change
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Following a heated debate Tuesday night, the University of Texas’ Student Government voted against a resolution to change school policy regarding marijuana on campus.

The resolution, co-authored by Robert Love, a graduate student attending U.T.’s LBJ School of Public Policy, would have recommended that university police write a citation, rather than arrest, someone possessing less than four ounces of marijuana.

In early 2009, Austin police began a “cite and release” program, meaning they do not have to arrest suspects in petty crimes—such as marijuana possession—and could write them a citation instead.

"They’re still going to be charged with two ounces, four ounces, whatever you have, the charges are going to be the same ,but were simply going to save time and money on the front end,” Love said.

Love said that even though University of Texas Police officers are not required to arrest suspects in marijuana possession cases, about 75 percent of the cases still end with an arrest.

"We're not asking them to do anything outside the law, we're asking them to apply the law a little bit more differently and creatively so that everyone is pretty much guaranteed equal footing," Love said.

Love says such a change would put all offenders on equal footing, which he says is especially important because statistics show that minorities are arrested in higher numbers for drug-related offenses nationwide.

"The bill that they are passing in Student Government cannot mandate to the police department on how they handle the case,” Chief Robert Dahlstrom with the University of Texas Police Department said. “If they go down to the state legislature and they get things changed there, that is the laws that we enforce."

Chief Dahlstrom said his numbers do not reflect the national average, saying whites and Hispanics make up the bulk of the drug-related arrests on campus.

In 2012, UTPD officers had 55 marijuana related incidents. About half of the suspects were arrested, the rest were written citations.

"I would never ask an officer to write a citation to somebody who cannot be identified who doesn't have good ID, who is intoxicated, who's being handled for another crime, it just doesn't make sense,” Chief Dahlstrom said. “I don't think any law enforcement agency is going to do anything like that."

While the change in policy may not come, Love says he hopes their efforts will spark a dialogue.

"I think that sets a great precedent for universities in Texas and across the nation, for people to say, ‘You know what that makes a lot of sense'," Love said.

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