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District Attorney Kim Ogg and heads of local law enforcement announced Thursday that, starting March 1, all police agencies in Harris County will no longer arrest people caught with four ounces or less of marijuana, and the DA's office will no longer be prosecuting those cases.
The remarkable move, which Ogg had championed throughout her 2016 campaign, pushes the third largest county in the nation to the forefront of marijuana reform in places where it is still illegal. Harris County will join only the Brooklyn County District Attorney's Office in New York in choosing to divert misdemeanor marijuana defendants away from jail entirely, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and saving thousands of people the lifelong burden of a criminal record.
Instead of being arrested and hauled off to jail, low-level potheads and casual smokers will instead be asked to take a four-hour decision-making class, at a cost of $150 (exceptions will be made for indigent people). Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner joined Ogg in developing the landmark policy. It replaces former district attorney Devon Anderson's First Chance Diversion Program, which only applied to first-time offenders caught with less than two ounces, which Ogg had criticized as being too narrow.
“At 107,000 cases over the last ten years, we have spent in excess of $250 million dollars collectively prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety,” Ogg said. “Additionally, the collateral damage to our workforce is immeasurable — because what we have done is we have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing and education opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is in effect a minor law violation.”
And of course, there's an effort to push back against the initiative.
- Houston Chronicle: Ogg under fire for new marijuana plan.