The top law enforcement officers in the state’s most populous city and the biggest county in Texas are set to declare a brand new policy about how they’ll deal with those caught with small quantities of pot.
Proponents of the policy say that it’ll reduce court dockets and free-up law enforcement time and jail space for detaining and prosecuting offenders who pose a larger risk to the community. In addition they contend that giving someone a criminal record for possession of small amounts of marijuana impacts their capability to get education, particular employment, and other opportunities–stigmatizing them.
Adversaries of the more lenient policy say that law enforcement and public officials don’t have the discretion to disregard the laws on the books in Texas.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo are anticipated to declare the brand new policy on Thursday, the Houston Chronicle reported. Starting on March 1, any individual caught with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be required to appear in court, or ticket. The offender take a four-hour drug education class.
“You don’t get charged with anything,” Assistant District Attorney David Mitcham told the Houston paper. “You have a path where you can prevent going to court.” Mitcham heads up the trial bureau at the district attorney’s office. Officials were reported to say that that Harris County would save $10 million a year by the brand new policy because about 12,000 individuals who are impacted by the policy wouldn’t be caught up in the criminal justice system.
The strategy would order that the marijuana seized by officers are dropped it off at a police station at the end of their shift. A report of the encounter would be filed and presumably create some sort of follow-up to make sure that the individual takes the class. No reference was made concerning how that individual would be monitored to ensure completion. The first report also didn’t suggest what would happen to the individual if they don’t comply with the education requirement.
The move by Ogg will change every law enforcement agency as the district attorney’s office makes the final decision on arrests and prosecution.
Responding to an inquiry from Breitbart Texas, Harris County Precinct 4 Constable Mark Herman said, “ I have personally met with DA Ogg on her new program and we’ll work with her office on the policy she has set.”
Sheriff Hernandez’ office observed the move by the DA to quit enforcing the law. “We’re actually encouraged by these swift actions by the district attorney,” sheriff’s office spokesman Ryan Sullivan told the Houston news outlet. “And we’re looking forward to working with Harris County’s criminal justice leadership identifying common-sense solutions to our broken criminal justice system.”
Houston Police Officers’ Union President Ray Hunt told the Montgomery County Police Reporter it would be great to get additional time to go after violent offenders instead of writing up paperwork on small marijuana. “I have a feeling there are going to be less arrests for marijuana, but I’m expecting this program does work,” Hunt explained. “I’m hoping it does allow space in our jails to be held for the bad guys.”
Officials in other counties weren’t as impressed.
Kim Ogg “doesn’t speak for the State of Texas or the majority of elected District and County Attorneys around the State,” Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon told the Montgomery County Police Reporter’s Scott Engle.
“Despite an increase in violent crime rates in Harris County, Ms. Ogg decides to focus her attention on the issue of legalization of marijuana,” Ligon continued. “I hope it’s an error in judgment on her part and not an indication of things to come. I respect the jurisdictional differences between Harris County and Montgomery County, and I expect she does too.”
“Unlike Harris County, Montgomery County will not become a refuge for dope smokers. I swore an oath to follow the law – all the laws, written by the Texas Legislature. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I enforce,” Ligon reasoned.
The matter of decriminalizing marijuana laws is now before the state legislature as several representatives have filed bills about the topic.
Officials in Harris County said the move will save county taxpayers about $10 million per year, the Houston Chronicle reported. The savings would come through not processing about 12,000 people per year through the jail and criminal justice system.
Breitbart Texas reached out to Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Abbott for opinion on the issue. A reply was not immediately available.