VIDEO: New pot punishment policy in Harris Co. stirs debate

Stephanie Whitfield, KHOU 6:47 PM. CST February 15, 2017
Originally published here.

HOUSTON- Changes are coming to the way people caught with marijuana are punished in Harris County.

Under the current policy, first-time offenders caught with up to two ounces of pot are able to avoid jail time through a diversion program.

During her campaign for Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg promised to expand that policy to include all misdemeanor marijuana offenders. That involves people caught with up to four ounces of the drug.

Details of the Harris County District Attorney’s new policy will be announced during a press conference Thursday morning.

However, members of the National Organization for Reformed Marijuana Laws, also called NORML, are already celebrating news of reform.

“This is fantastic news for Harris County, because its showing that prohibition is coming to an end,” said Jason Miller, Houston NORML. “What we’re seeing is misdemeanor possession cases are no longer going to involve jail time, a criminal record, or an arrest. This is great for the community, because people are no longer going to be clogging up the courts and law enforcement resources with small possession cases. These are people who haven’t done anything wrong.”

Others disagree, arguing people caught with marijuana are breaking the law.

Harris County Treasurer Orlando Sanchez worries not enforcing the rules tells criminals they can get away with a little more in this county.

“[DA Kim Ogg] can choose to prosecute a dope dealer or not prosecute a dope dealer, but the consequences of not doing that will be borne by the tax payers, you and me,” said Sanchez. “If burglary and crime increases in Harris County by virtue of this decision, I guess that will be a political decision that comes up in a little over three years.”

One thing both sides agree on is lasting change has to happen at the state level. Several marijuana bills have been introduced in Austin this session.

“Local policies can have a tremendous impact on that, because we can show that this works,” said Miller.

They disagree about whether reform will happen in Texas anytime soon.

“A lot of what Harris County tries to do sometimes is undone by the state legislature. If the penal code is amended, which I think is the proper place to make these changes, let state lawmakers make those decisions,” said Sanchez.

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