Devon Anderson, Harris County’s District Attorney, announced a new policy relating to minor drug charges on October 1, 2014. Starting Monday, October 6, 2014, Harris County District Attorneys will not prosecute certain marijuana charges. First-time, non-violent offenders found with up to two ounces of marijuana (typically a misdemeanor B marijuana possession charge) will not be charged with a crime if they agree to do eight hours of community service or an eight hour class.
Does this mean Houston is taking steps toward decriminalization of marijuana or even full-blown marijuana legalization? Unfortunately, most signs point to no. Reports indicate Houston’s new pot policy will be short-lived: six months. After these six months, the District Attorney’s Office will review the data and determine whether or not to continue Houston’s new pot policy.
The purpose of Houston’s new 1st Chance Intervention Plan is to hone resources from less serious crimes––such as class B misdemeanor marijuana possession––to more serious ones, and to benefit people who the District Attorney’s Office believes are capable of reforming themselves.
However, the DA’s office does not want you thinking punishment for these marijuana charges will be a slap on the wrist. The District Attorney’s Office is hoping to scare straight misdemeanor marijuana offenders. First time offenders with less than two ounces of marijuana will still have to go along for the ride, literally and figuratively. You will still be arrested, and you will still be taken to the Police Station. At the Police Station, you will be fingerprinted and offered the 1st Chance Marijuana Offender Intervention Plan.
Harris County District Attorney stated charges will not be filed initially. However, if you fail to do your community service or fail to take your drug offender assessment test, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. At that point, a police officer could arrest you anywhere.
Ultimately, I would be a little wary of offered the 1st Chance Intervention Plan. With elections for the Harris County District Attorney position approaching, one ought to wonder whether new policies are politically driven or genuine. Democratic challenger for the District Attorney position, Kim Ogg, articulated a very similar message a few months back. “No jail, no bail and no permanent record, if you earn it,” said Ogg in July 2014. Some might argue that Houston’s current District Attorney is flip-flopping. After all, Anderson did go on the record in January 2014, stating “the most effective way to keep our law-abiding citizens safe is to obey all the laws that our legislators put on the books at our State Capitol,” in response to President Obama’s juxtaposition of the harms caused by alcohol and marijuana. However, District Attorney Anderson says she has been working on this plan since she took office.
With the national shift in cannabis culture, there will continue to be a push to scale back penalties for marijuana possession. As with many other things in life, we can take steps to be ahead of the curve, or we can scramble to catch up. Whether this marijuana policy was born yesterday or months prior, it will be interesting to see if Houston decriminalizes marijuana possession any further.