HOUSTON, Texas – The top law enforcement officers in the largest county in Texas and in the state’s most populous city are set to announce a new policy about how they will deal with those caught with small amounts of marijuana.
Proponents of the policy say that it will reduce court dockets and free-up jail space and law enforcement time for arresting and prosecuting criminals who pose a bigger threat to the community. They also argue that giving someone a criminal record for possession of small amounts of marijuana affects their ability to get certain employment, education, and other opportunities–stigmatizing them.
Opponents of the more lenient policy say that public officials and law enforcement do not have the discretion to ignore the laws on the books in Texas.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo are expected to announce the new policy on Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. Beginning on March 1, any person caught with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be arrested, ticketed, or required to appear in court. The offender take a four-hour drug education class.
“You do not get charged with anything,” Assistant District Attorney David Mitcham told the Houston newspaper. “You have a pathway where you can avoid going to court.” Mitcham heads up the trial bureau at the district attorney’s office. Officials were reported to say that the new policy would save Harris County $10 million a year because approximately 12,000 people affected by the policy would not be caught up in the criminal justice system.
The plan would dictate that officers seize the marijuana and drop it off at a police station at the end of their shift. They would file a report of the encounter and presumably create some kind of follow-up to make sure the person takes the class. No mention was made as to how that person would be tracked to ensure completion. The initial report also did not indicate what would happen to the person if they do not comply with the education requirement.
The move by Ogg will affect every law enforcement agency as the district attorney’s office makes the final determination on arrests and prosecution.
Responding to an inquiry from Breitbart Texas, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said, “I have personally met with DA Ogg on her new program and we will work with her office on the policy she has set.”
Sheriff Hernandez’ office celebrated the move by the DA to stop enforcing the law. “We’re really encouraged by these swift actions by the district attorney,” sheriff’s office spokesman Ryan Sullivan told the Houston news outlet. “And we are looking forward to working with Harris County’s criminal justice leadership identifying common-sense solutions to our broken criminal justice system.”
Houston Police Officers’ Union President Ray Hunt told the Montgomery County Police Reporter it would be great to have more time to go after violent criminals instead of writing up paperwork on small marijuana cases. “I have a feeling there are going to be less arrests for marijuana, but I’m hoping this program does work,” Hunt explained. “I’m hoping it does allow space in our jails to be held for the bad guys.”
Officials in other counties were not as impressed.
Kim Ogg “doesn’t speak for the State of Texas or the majority of elected District and County Attorneys across the State,” Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon told the Montgomery County Police Reporter’s Scott Engle.
“Despite a rise in violent crime rates in Harris County, Ms. Ogg chooses to focus her attention on the issue of legalization of marijuana,” Ligon continued. “I hope it’s a mistake in judgment on her part and not a sign of things to come. I respect the jurisdictional differences between Montgomery County and Harris County, and I hope she does too.”
“Unlike Harris County, Montgomery County will not become a sanctuary for dope smokers. I swore an oath to follow the law – all the laws, as written by the Texas Legislature. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I enforce,” Ligon concluded.
The issue of decriminalizing marijuana laws is currently before the state legislature as several representatives have filed bills on the subject.
Officials in Harris County said the move will save county taxpayers about $10 million per year, the Houston Chronicle reported. The savings would come through not processing about 12,000 people per year through the jail and criminal justice system.
Breitbart Texas reached out to Governor Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton for comment on the matter. A response was not immediately available.