Pot Possession: Who Pays? - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Pot Possession: Who Pays?

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Hundreds of people were charged with marijuana crimes last year within the Wichita County Sheriff's Department and its residents who paying for all of the cases.

"I feel like it's really ridiculous how much money gets spent keeping these people in jail," said a Texoma resident.

If someone were to get caught with two to four ounces of marijuana, it is classified as a Class A misdemeanor.  If someone is caught with less than two ounces of marijuana, it is classified as a Class B misdemeanor.  However, both Class A and B misdemeanor marijuana charges are not stopping marijuana users from using, it seems now, more than ever, people are choosing to light up.

"We do see a bigger increase in probably the last 5 to 10 years of marijuana. It's more prevalent," said Wichita County Sheriff, David Duke.

More than 400 misdemeanor marijuana cases were filed last year in Wichita County and it's you the tax payer whose money is being spent on what some consider a waste of money.

"I feel that people shouldn't waste their time putting people in jail, having to pay these extra fines and taxpayers having to pay money to house these people and feed these people over a small crime.  I wouldn't even call it a crime," said a Texoma resident.

From the moment someone is arrested for being caught with marijuana in their possession, the costs start to add up.

County taxpayers are paying for a law enforcement officer, a jailer, a probation officer, a district attorney and a public defender.  This is not to mention a judge if the case should go to trial as well as the time of each person on the jury.  The entire legal process for someone with caught with possession of marijuana is time consuming.

"Once you get the drug, it has to be tested and it has to be tested by the state lab, Department of Public Safety.  Then, we get it back and have to destroy it once the court says to destroy it.  Then, we have to make sure it's destroyed properly and it all costs money to do all of these things.  It's a big burden all across the board on law enforcement," said Duke.

"They get put in jail, they have to go to court.  They have court costs, probation fees and fines," said a Texoma resident.

 "Throughout that process we're incurring the costs of county employees.  Obviously we have the jail and the Sheriffs Department.  You have the District Attorneys' time, they're all paid through the county.  You have my time and other Assistant Public Defenders, we're paid through the county.  You have the cost of the probation department, that department is also paid for by county tax dollars, not including the time that is spent in court taking up the judges' time and the court personnel," said Assistant Public Defender for the Wichita County Public Defender's Office, Julia Bella.

22 states have chosen to legalize marijuana of some way.  Texas could be added to that list in the future.  In January, Governor Rick Perry said he supported moving the state towards decriminalization.  Many Texoma residents, we spoke to seem to like the idea of decriminalization.

"I feel like there are bigger issues in the city that they should be worried about that than trying to lock people up for small amounts of marijuana," said a Texoma resident.

"It's a lot of jail space that could be used for people committing real crimes.  Decriminalizing would be a really good thing.  It would keep a lot of people out of trouble," said a Texoma resident.

In a report from the American Civil Liberties Union, Texas is ranked #2 in the nation for total arrests of marijuana possession, costing taxpayers about $300,000.00. The District Attorney's office in Wichita County does not keep track of how much money is spent prosecuting people with a misdemeanor marijuana charge.  

Some Texoma residents support decriminalization, but there are some who don't.  Texoma residents who are not in favor of decriminalization did not want to speak to Newschannel 6 on camera.

Taylor Barnes, Newschanel 6