Americans across the country have led the way in changing legislation regarding
the possession and use of marijuana. Today, several states legalize the
recreational use of marijuana and many others have passed laws allowing
for the compassionate use of pot by individuals with medical needs. Following
what many have called a failed “War on Drugs,” cities, counties,
and states have also reshaped their approach to drug crimes by decriminalizing
Decriminalization was exactly what Harris County officials had in mind
when they announced a policy that began on the first of this month to
possession of small amounts of marijuana. Here’s what you need to know about
the new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program:
- Possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana will no longer result in an arrest,
court appearance, or jail time.
- Individuals charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession will be redirected
into a decision-making class rather than the criminal justice system.
- Upon completion of the cognition decision-making course, individuals stopped
with misdemeanor quantities of marijuana will have no criminal record.
- The Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program took effect in Harris County
on March 1, 2017.
Harris County officials and many local residents have supported the new
policy, as it is a much-anticipated departure from draconian
drug crime laws that have overburdened our criminal justice system – from law
enforcement to courts to our bursting jails and prisons. According to
County officials, low-level marijuana cases comprise
10% of the cases on County court dockets.
By diverting these low-level, non-violent offenders who choose to use a
substance that is legal in several states, decriminalized in many others,
and widely discussed, accepted, and used by millions of Americans, Harris
County can save substantial government funds:
$26 million is spent annually prosecuting over 10,000 misdemeanor marijuana cases
Crime labs spend nearly
$2 million testing evidence related to misdemeanor marijuana cases.
The County spends
$13 million per year to house individuals suspected of misdemeanor marijuana possession,
who spend 6 days on average in jail.
- Law enforcement officers spend on average 4 hours to stop, investigate,
arrest, transport, and book individuals suspected of misdemeanor marijuana
offenses, time that costs the County and detracts from officers policing
The rolling back of harsh drug crime approaches that fail to address an
underlying issue, drain the government of much-need funds, and usher numerous
people through the criminal justice system has been a nationwide trend
with increasing support. Unfortunately, not all lawmakers may agree with
the approach, including those in the Texas state House and Senate.
After Harris County’s new policy made news, members of state Congress
quickly spoke out, many of whom condemned the policy. While the issue
concerns the policing and prosecution of low-level marijuana offenses,
lawmakers have appropriated the issue to debate not just drug crime laws,
but also whether local jurisdictions should have discretion when it comes
to enforcing laws. Their opinions revolve around the belief that policy
changes should occur on a statewide level, as debate and deliberation,
although it is unlikely Texas would pass similar legislation any time soon.
For some lawmakers, however, allowing local officials to have discretion
in the crimes they choose to prosecute within their jurisdiction and communities
makes sense. After all, these officials have been voted in by residents
to voice their opinions and reflect their beliefs and sentiments. If Harris
County believes they can still protect public safety, prevent low-level
offenders from the burden of criminal records, use resources more efficiently,
and save considerable funds in the process, some legislators believe that
type of policy shift is a practical approach.
While conflicting opinions remain, the fact of the matter is that shifts
in opinions and marijuana policies are growing throughout the United States,
especially as we see the exorbitant costs spent on policing, prosecuting,
and penalizing low-level marijuana-related crimes, and the toll criminal
records can have on the lives on individuals who are arrested for low-level,
nonviolent offenses. In Texas, Harris County may be leading the way to
a new approach to marijuana and drug crime enforcement.
While the new policy is in effect in Harris County, is it important to
remember that you can still find yourself in legal trouble for pot, especially
if higher quantities are involved, allegations of more sales,
trafficking, or more serious crimes are made, or for possession of marijuana in another
jurisdiction. When these charges, or any other criminal allegations, are
levied against you by the government, you can be confident in choosing
the experienced Houston criminal defense attorneys at The Law Offices
of Jed Silverman to fight on your behalf.
To discuss a case and your legal rights with an attorney,
contact us for a free consultation.