Texas Lt. Governor says Houston marijuana policy creates “sanctuary city” of drug crimes
Following the announcement by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg that her office would no longer arrest or prosecute most marijuana possession cases, Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has sharply criticized the new policy which affects Houston and the surrounding areas.
“The lieutenant governor has said repeatedly regarding sanctuary cities that he does not believe that law enforcement has the discretion to choose what laws to enforce and what laws to ignore,” said Patrick press secretary Alejandro Garcia as reported by the Houston Chronicle. “That is his position regarding DA Ogg’s proposal.”
The policy, which goes into effect March 1, means that those found with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be arrested, ticketed, or required to appear in court if they agree to take a four-hour drug-education class.
Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) who chairs the Senate’s criminal justice committee that oversees criminal laws, said he supports the change as ‘well thought up and tough.
“I respect the opinions of the law enforcement stakeholders, and think this will allow them to focus their attention on more serious crimes like burglary of vehicles, burglary of homes, drug trafficking and high-level violent crimes,” said. “This is not turning us into Colorado. It’s just being tough and smart on these lowest-level crimes that can be addressed in other ways besides sending people to jail.”
Ogg’s statement came the same day that Rep. Joe Moody (D-El Paso) held a press conference at the capitol where several current and former members of law enforcement supported his bill, HB 81, which would decrease the penalty for possession of an ounce of marijuana, making it a ticket not to exceed $250.
“What the DA in Harris County is doing is exercising her discretion as allowed under the law,” Moody said. “I support that program. It’s smart in cases of this type. Her predecessor had a similar policy issue. This is not a partisan issue.”
Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is in opposition to the new policy, stating “I can strongly suggest that the support is there to continue the penalties that are in effect now.”
Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) came out in support of the policy as well, saying “It’s appropriate if it’s low-level amounts, because arresting everyone and putting everyone in jail just clogs up your jails and courts. Let’s face it, at some point, we’re going to legalize marijuana in Texas. It’s a business. We can tax it as a business.”
A day before the announcement Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon tore into Ogg’s new program, calling it “mob rule.”
“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 said. He further stated that he was opposed to legalizing marijuana.