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Houston DA under fire from own party for marijuana reform not going far enough

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson is under fire for her marijuana reform plan not going far enough.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson is under fire for her marijuana reform plan not going far enough.

Major news has been pouring out of Houston lately about plans to implement marijuana law enforcement reforms by getting rid of jail time and arrests. Both the District Attorney Devon Anderson and her Democratic opponent Kim Ogg have been squaring off for the general election in November with their own plans to change how people go through the legal system for simple possession.

Anderson is now taking heat while Ogg gets praise.

Ogg introduced her plan first, proposing no arrests and no jail time for those caught with less than four ounces. Upon completing community service, the offender’s record is cleared. She say’s it will save the county around $10 million annually.

Anderson unveiled an outline of her plan a month later, then several weeks afterwards announced a pilot program. Her program differs from Ogg’s because it only includes first time offenders, allows for only those caught with less than two ounces, requires an arrest, and forces offenders to attend a drug treatment program.

Involvement in the program is also optional, meaning that from town to town, a person caught on one side of the street can effectively be arrested and released at the station, while someone caught on the other side of the street in a different jurisdiction will be subjected to the full force of the judicial system, including time spent in jail.

Cannabis reform activists and local political leaders in the area have applauded the move towards reform, however Anderson is now taking criticism for not going far enough from not just her opponents, but members of her own party.

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Jason Miller, who is involved with the Harris County Republican Party and Houston NORML, has been outspoken against Anderson’s plan.

“I feel it’s a step in the right direction, but the program needs to be expanded and improved,” Miller stated.  “We want transparency, due process, and equal treatment under the law. We want the program to be successful.”

He added, “I don’t like the idea of marijuana smokers being shuffled in and out of our police stations where officers are trying to work. And then being asked to enter into an agreement with the government without an attorney present. It raises a lot of questions.”

Today he released an open letter to the Harris County District Attorney urging her to change her plan.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

Accompanying it were signatures from local leaders including Ann Lee, who is a GOP precinct chair and director of Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), John Baucum who is the president of Houston Young Republicans and a precinct chair, Cara Bonin who is on the Local Government Committee for the Harris County Republican Party, Christopher Busby, a precinct chair and board member of Houston Young Republicans, Matthew G. Howerton who is the chairman of the Houston Republican Liberty Caucus and precinct chair, and Jeffrey Larson, who is the chairman of the Texas Republican Liberty Caucus, a precinct chair, and vice-chair of the Harris County Republican Party SD 11.

The open letter asks a series of 12 questions about her program and raises concerns about it. View that letter here.

Carmen Roe, President of Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association stated, “individuals are afforded no due process if they avail themselves to this program. It is our hope that the DA’s office will review the program details and address these serious due process concerns.”

Miller also pointed out that the rules are confusing and require a lot of extra work on the officer’s part.

“I’m a bit disturbed by our DA’s comment that people will be “scared straight.” That style of law enforcement is Authoritarian, the idea that people will be afraid of their government so they obey authority. That’s how a parent might discipline a little kid. That’s not how a government should interact with its citizens,” claimed Miller.

“Our Finance Director is a Vietnam Veteran in his 60’s. Do you think he’ll be scared straight? I don’t think so. We’re not talking about juvenile delinquents here. We’re talking about anyone accused of possessing marijuana, including responsible adults.”

They’re also concerned that Houston Police Department and the Harris County Sheriff’s Department are the only two jurisdictions taking part in the program.

Houston NORML also created a side-by-side comparison of the two plans, laying out the specific difference between Anderson and Ogg’s plans. View that comparison here.

The November election very well could be a referendum on which plan those in the Houston area prefer.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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