Beginning January 1, police in America’s fourth largest city will cease filing criminal charges against minor marijuana possession offenders.
Under a new directive issued by the Harris County District Attorney’s office, police in the county must offer all first-time marijuana offenders found in the possession of two ounces or less the opportunity to participate in a pre-trial intervention program. Those offenders who elect to participate in the program, which consists of class work and community service, will not have criminal charges formally filed against them. Those who complete the program will not be charged with a crime, and they will not possess a criminal record.
Only first-time offenders will be eligible for the program, known as the First Chance Intervention Program.
The change is a welcome one for residents of the Lone Star State. Texas police arrest an estimated 75,000 offenders for violating the state’s pot possession laws annually—the second highest total in the nation.
Under state law, the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine and a criminal record.
In 2007, Texas lawmakers enacted legislation permitting police in local jurisdictions to cite rather than arrest minor pot offenders. However, most police departments have elected to continue making arrests despite the law’s passage.
With a population of more than 2.2 million people, Houston is among the most populated cities in the United States.
In recent months, officials in numerous metropolitan areas—including Milwaukee and Philadelphia, as well as Miami-Dade and Broward counties in Florida—have implemented local ordinances to discourage police from making low-level pot arrests.