Harris County’s Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program takes effect tomorrow, March 1st.
The new program – put forth by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg – makes it so that those caught possessing up to four ounces of cannabis within the county will no longer be arrested or charged with a criminal misdemeanor in most instances. Instead they will be mandated to take a four-hour drug education class.
Harris County is by far Texas’ most populated county with over 4.5 million residents. The county includes Houston, the most populated city in the state and the fourth most populated city in the country; its 2 million residents is more than the population of 15 states.
Houston and the county that contains the fourth most-populous U.S. city will decriminalize low-level marijuana possession, with officials saying on Thursday that throwing people in jail for having small amounts of pot has “no tangible public safety benefit.”
The policy, which takes effect March 1, means in most circumstances there will be no jail, no tickets, no court appearances and no criminal record for possession of an ounce or two of marijuana in the city and its surrounding county, home to about 4.5 million people.
More than two dozen U.S. states have legalized some form of marijuana for medical or recreational use, but the drug remains illegal at the federal level and in Texas.
The new “Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program” for Harris County applies to people 17 and older facing no additional charges other than misdemeanor marijuana possession, county and city law enforcement officials said in a statement.
“Harris County has spent more than $200 million in the past decade on more than 100,000 cases of misdemeanor marijuana possession,” District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat who took office this year, said in a statement.
She added that the effort “has deprived neighborhoods of officers’ time that could be spent patrolling communities; jail beds that could be used for violent criminals… and judicial court time that should be spent bringing serious criminals to justice.”
The Texas Attorney General’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
The move is also aimed at preventing people from being denied education, employment and housing opportunities due to having a criminal record for marijuana possession.
A main provision is for those caught with low-level possession to complete a four-hour course on decision-making at a cost of $150, which will be waived for the indigent. If people eligible for the program do not want to participate, they will be taken to jail and charged with possession.
The county and Houston will give police officers discretion to bring criminal charges. Individuals under court supervision through bond, probation, or deferred adjudication are not eligible since they have agreements not to violate the law, the county and city said.
Ogg said the move falls under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures that says it is the duty of a district attorney “not to convict, but to see that justice is done.”
“With limited resources, we need to be efficient, smart and thoughtful on fighting crime,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said in a statement.
Beginning Friday, January 1st, the first-time possession of up to two ounces of cannabis will no longer result in an arrest and criminal charge in Harris County, the most populous county in Texas. Harris County is the third most populous county in the entire United States.
The new policy was put forth by Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who is calling it the First Chance Intervention Program. Under this program, those caught possessing up to two ounces of cannabis will no longer be arrested, charged with a criminal offense and imprisoned for up to six months. Instead, they’ll be given a citation and mandated to attend a diversion program.
Harris County is the most populous county in Texas, and the third most populous county in the entire United States. Beginning on January 1st – three weeks from tomorrow – those in the county caught possessing up to two ounces of cannabis for the first time will no longer be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor that could land them in prison for up to 6 months; instead, they’ll be given a citation and mandated to attend a diversion program (which is still annoying, but clearly much better than prison).
The new policy – called the First Chance Intervention Program – is being put in place by Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who is moving forth with the change despite widespread criticism from his colleagues in law enforcement.