Marijuana policy change near certain for Houston District Attorney come November
No matter who wins this November, a change in marijuana policy at the Houston-based district attorney’s office is almost certain.
With two candidates squaring off for the Harris County position, both females, the incumbent a Republican, each has announced their interest in taking a step towards changing how low level marijuana offenders are handled.
The first to make a move was Democratic challenger Kim Ogg, who held a press conference in July to outline her new G.R.A.C.E. program, which would put those caught with less than four ounces of cannabis through two days of community service rather than in jail. After completion, the charge would be erased from their record. Repeat offenders would be eligible for this program as well.
She would also make use of Texas’ Cite and Release Law, which was passed back in 2007. That law, which few counties take advantage of, gives the arresting officer the discretion of writing a court summons to people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of taking them to jail.
Those supporting the law say that it helps free up police resources and keep officers out on the streets where they can be available to respond to accidents and take on violent crime.
“This gives people an opportunity to repay their community for what is a small amount of drugs and then clean-up their record,” Ogg stated in July, adding “our tagline is ‘No jail, no bail, no permanent record, if you earn it.'” She also claims that it will save the county $10 million.
Both Houston NORML and a group called Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) were on hand to support the policy change. RAMP then sought incumbent Devon Anderson’s plan to change how her office handled low level marijuana offenses. At the time, Anderson stated that she was working with local law enforcement agencies to come up with a plan, but could not say more.
Anderson, who was appointed by Rick Perry in 2013, made a statement in mid August announcing her new plan.
The two are similar, however the biggest difference is whether or not those caught would be taken to jail. Anderson’s plan would also not be available to repeat offenders.
Under Anderson’s plan, all offenders would be taken to jail where they would be booked into the system and evaluated.
If deemed a low-risk, first-time offender, the person will be eligible for the program, which dismisses the case pending completion of community service and possibly, classroom instruction. If the requirements are successfully completed, no conviction appears on the person’s record.
Anderson’s plan is scheduled to go into effect at some point this fall.
Joe Ptak, who heads Texans Smart on Crime, told the Houston Chronicle “it doesn’t make sense for people who are going to be released anyway to be driven across the county,” adding, “having police on patrol is the most effective way to protect communities, and Cite & Summons gives communities the opportunity to do that.”
Under both plans, those who fail to comply with any of the requirements would be charged with the original case and arrested.
Polls consistently show majority support for changing marijuana laws both nationally and in Texas. A recent poll marks support for legalizing marijuana at 58%.
Soon after Ogg released her plan, three Texas senators wrote a letter in support of it.
By: Stephen Carter