Houston District Attorney candidate supports no jail time for marijuana offenders
Democratic candidate Kim Ogg, who is running for Harris County’s District Attorney seat in Houston is calling for a new way to handle low level marijuana cases.
Ogg stated on Friday that she wants to have people who are caught with under four ounces of cannabis to no longer serve jail time, and instead perform community service. This would also mean getting the charge erased from their record after successfully completing two days of community service.
“This gives people an opportunity to repay their community for what is a small amount of drugs and then clean-up their record,” said Ogg.
She went on to say that the move will save the county millions of dollars and free up prosecutors to go after dangerous criminals, adding “our taxpayers want their money spent smart.”
Two local organizations showed support of the policy change, including Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), and the Houston chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (Houston NORML).
Zoe Russell, who spoke on behalf of RAMP, stated “RAMP supports an open dialogue about criminal penalties for marijuana possession, furthered today by Democratic Candidate for District Attorney Kim Ogg’s announcement about her proposed ‘G.R.A.C.E. Program’ to divert low-level marijuana offenders from a jail term to a community service requirement. Additionally, Ogg’s plan includes the implementation of “Cite and Release,” which sets up a system for police officers to ticket a marijuana possession suspect rather than arrest.”
RAMP was founded in 2012 and is a nonprofit organization and political caucus within the GOP working to educate and connect with lawmakers, party leadership, and grassroots activists in an effort to bring marijuana out of the black-market and into safe, legal, and regulated use by doctors for compassionate medical care and storefronts for adult recreational use.
The Texas Legislature passed HB 2319 in 2007 which allowed for counties to “Cite and Release” certain misdemeanors, including marijuana possession of 0 to 4 ounces. To be implemented at the local level, the district attorney must spearhead the effort. Currently, the penalty for marijuana possession of 0 to 2 ounces is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by six months in jail and $2,000 in fines. For 2 to 4 ounces, the state imposes a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and $4,000 in fines. The drug charge remains on the individual’s criminal record for life.
Executive Director of Houston NORML Jason Miller, who spoke with media at the event, also released a statement, saying “hearing this from Kim Ogg today was absolutely a breath of fresh air. We have a lot of problems in Harris County with our criminal justice system right now. We have serious crimes that are going un-investigated and resources that are being wasted. The root of some of these problems has to do with the enforcement of the unjust laws of marijuana prohibition. What we do at Houston NORML is advocate changing those laws. Cite and Release is a very good law that was passed in 2007 but has been ignored in Harris County. Given the circumstances of what the laws are currently and what the role of the DA is, this plan is the best we can possibly hope for right now. This will allow our District Attorney’s office and our law enforcement community to operate at the highest level of efficiency and this is a real solution for our communities.”
Ogg’s Republican opponent, current Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, released a statement as well saying she believes that low risk offenders are a strain on the community, and that she is working on her own program as well.
“We have been working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department on a pilot marijuana intervention program that will be implemented this fall,” said Anderson. “The details of the pilot program will be released jointly with all agencies involved.”
By: Stephen Carter