The Harris County District Attorney’ s Office, in its commitment to keeping the public safe, spending tax payer money responsibly and providing equal justice for all, is instituting a new policy affecting the prosecution of thousands of misdemeanor marijuana cases.
The office will use its Texas Legislature-mandated discretion to divert offenders in possession of small amounts of marijuana starting March 1.
The Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program was made public Thursday by District Attorney Kim Ogg, who was joined at a news conference by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Pct. 1 Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis and other officials.
The goal of the program is to ensure that the limited resources of prosecutors, local law enforcement and the Harris County Jail, are used to increase public safety and see that those in possession of misdemeanor amounts of marijuana are not stigmatized by criminal records that limit their employment, education and housing opportunities.
“Harris County has spent more than $200 million in the past decade on more than 100,000 cases of misdemeanor marijuana possession,” Ogg said. “The endeavor has had no tangible public safety benefit for the people of Harris County, yet has deprived neighborhoods of officers’ time that could be spent patrolling communities; jail beds that could be used for violent criminals, crime lab resources needed for DNA testing, and judicial court time that should be spent bringing serious criminals to justice.”
This office recognizes that the possession of marijuana is illegal in this state and that police, when acting in a constitutional manner, have the authority to arrest offenders who break the law.
This policy is the result of a collaborative effort between the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement to direct our efforts to those who commit crimes against people and property: robberies, burglaries, rapes and murder, among other crimes.
Further, it is a commitment to the greater Houston business and labor communities to keep people in the workforce whenever possible by diverting them around the criminal justice system before they are charged with the crime of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
Accountability for breaking the law will remain an important component of this office’s new policy as all offenders are required to meet eligibility standards and complete a four-hour education program. Otherwise, they will face traditional arrest and charging procedures for their offense.
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“We’ve been looking into this idea for quite some time because of its expected impact on the efficiency of our law enforcement efforts. We must always be smart and safe with our decisions, but if we can achieve that while improving and enhancing the system, why wouldn’t we pursue it? It makes no sense to continue to crowd our jail cells when there is a better way that will allow our officers to concentrate more of their time in other areas that will have a greater impact on public safety.” - Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner
“I am encouraged by the collaborative effort to reform our criminal justice system underway in Harris County. Working together we can identify practical solutions to reform our trouble criminal justice system, while remaining steadfast in our duty to protect the citizens of Harris County” -Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez
"With limited resources, we need to be efficient, smart and thoughtful on fighting crime. “We need to focus our efforts on fighting violent crime and investigating home and business burglaries, not on minor drug offenses. Protecting lives and property need to be our highest priorities.” - Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo
“This new program instituted by District Attorney Ogg is a positive first step towards improving public safety and creating a fairer and more equal justice system for all. We must move away from wasteful and inefficient policies of mass incarceration and shift toward more effective and less destructive smart-on-crime strategies for low-level, non-violent offenses.” - Pct. 1 Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis
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