Going to jail for marijuana in Houston largely a thing of the past
Houston and its surrounding areas are going into 2017 years ahead of the rest of Texas when it comes to marijuana policy as arrests and jail time are largely taken off the table.
Newly sworn in Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced during her inauguration ceremony earlier this week that misdemeanor marijuana prosecutions will be diverted around jail. Ogg ran on a campaign of keeping people from being arrested and serving any jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which resonated well with voters in east Texas.
“I’ve never felt good about putting marijuana users in the same jail cells as murderers. It’s just not fair, it doesn’t make any sense, and our country is resoundingly against that,” Ogg stated.
Misdemeanors include 2 ounces or less, and 2 to 4 ounces. However those caught with concentrates of the plant still face felony charges, even if their whole plant equivalent would equal a misdemeanor.
“I’m going to look at our legislature to take another look at the drug laws and the penalties that are imposed under Texas law. As long as it’s the law, I’ll follow it. But our office is going to use the discretion that the legislature gave us to handle marijuana cases differently,” Ogg added.
Those found in possession of a misdemeanor amount would be cited and given a court summons. They would then have to pay a fine, attend drug education classes, and perform community service. Once all conditions are met, the district attorney’s office will drop the pending charges.
Houston’s new chief of police, Art Acevedo, is on board with the program as well.
During an interview with Dean Becker who hosts local radio show Cultural Baggage, Acevedo, who is the former Austin Police Department Chief, stated that he wanted to push offenders towards rehabilitation rather than jail, and acknowledged that Texas will be looking very closely at the medicinal qualities of marijuana within the next few years.
He later gave a statement to Houston Press, saying “Despite the fact that [Austin] was a very lean department dealing with explosive growth, we were able to keep it one of the safest big cities in the country because we were focusing on what matters most: taking care of violent crime and property crime,” Acevedo told the Press. “We’ve got limited resources here like every other police department — it never made sense to me to be tying up police officers for low-level offenses. We’ve got to rethink our priorities, and that’s why I’ve already started a conversation with the mayor and the new DA [about cite and release].”
According to Acevedo, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a former state representative, has expressed support for reform as well.
While campaigning, Turner floundered on a question concerning marijuana legalization in Texas however, stating “Oh, marijuana being legalized. That’s a question that, uh, you know, I’m not one that’s at that point yet. You know, in the Legislature, that issue will come up. We’ll certainly be debating it. But I don’t think the state of Texas is where Colorado is. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. But we’ll have a healthy debate on it in the Legislature.”
A KHOU – Houston Public Media Poll from 2014 showed 62 percent of residents in support of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana, ensuring that there would be no jail time or records for those caught with the plant.