Although the state of Texas does not appear to be anywhere close to approving legislation to legalize medical or recreational marijuana, the district attorney in Houston is making a historical move by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana in an effort to keep a growing number of residents out of the criminal justice system.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced earlier this week that beginning on October 6, her office would no longer pursue criminal charges against non-violent, first-time pot offenders caught in possession of less than two ounces of marijuana. Instead, these people will have the option of either performing eight hours of community service or attend a drug awareness course.
“We are targeting the people we believe are self-correcting and will be ‘scared straight’ by being handcuffed and transported. Our goal is to keep these individuals from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” Anderson said in a statement.
Unlike other decriminalization efforts imposed across the country this year, local law enforcement agencies plan to work with the district attorney’s office to make the new pilot plan a success. Both the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston police have given their support.
“Too often, we see young people, with the promise of an incredible future in front of them, make mistakes that then begin a spiral downwards,” said Sheriff Adrian Garcia, with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
Interestingly, Democratic candidate Kim Ogg criticized Anderson’s recent decriminalization plan, which comes just a month away from the November election. She argues that the measure is a feeble attempt at challenging her plan to deal with minor pot possession in Houston.
“This is not a new plan,” said Ogg. “It’s a ‘me too’ program by a candidate who has shifted her position with the winds of political change.”
If Ogg is elected, she plans to impose a measure that will allow law enforcement to issue fines to those people caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana — even repeat offenders. In addition, these individuals would be forced to fulfill two days of community service around Houston’s bayous.
Reports indicate that Ogg’s proposal would keep 12,000 offenders a year out of the criminal justice system.