Harris County’s New Marijuana Diversion Program Sparks Debate
Citizens from all across the United States have led the charge for changing legislation governing the possession and use of marijuana. Today, several states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and several others have passed medical marijuana laws, allowing the compassionate use of marijuana by people with specific medical needs. Many states, counties, and cities have revisited antiquated drug laws in light of the failed “war on drugs,” and have decriminalized marijuana.
When Harris County officials announced a new policy at the start of the month, decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of the drug, they initiated what many hope will eventually lead to total decriminalization of marijuana. Here’s the inside scoop on the county’s new Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program:
Individuals will no longer be arrested and charged with a crime for possession of up to 4 ounces of marijuana, which means no court appearances or jail time.
Those facing misdemeanor possession charges will be placed in a decision-making class instead of facing jail time.
Those arrested for misdemeanor possession will have no criminal record upon the successful completion of the cognition decision-making course.
Harris County’s Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program officially kicked off on March 1, 2017. The program has the support of county officials as well as many local residents, eager to see the departure from draconian drug laws that overburden our criminal justice system. This support comes from those in law enforcement, the courts, and those running our prison systems. This program has the potential to eliminate as many as 10% of the cases that are currently on court dockets, according to county officials.
Harris County is expected to save substantial government funds through the diversion of these non-violent, low-level offenders whose crime is to use a substance that is completely legal in several states, has been decriminalized in others, and is widely accepted and used by tens of millions of Americans.Marijuana cases account for over 10,000 misdemeanor cases that come before the courts every year, at a cost of millions to prosecute. An additional, $2 million is spent by county crime labs for testing evidence connected to marijuana cases, and $13 million is spent annually by the County to house suspects, who average 6 days in jail. Law enforcement officers log nearly 4 hours from the initial stop to the booking of suspects, valuable time that would be better invested in policing other crimes.
Antiquated drug crime laws fail to address the underlying issue, act as a drain on government budgets, and place innumerable people into the criminal justice system that are otherwise law-abiding folks. The rolling back of these laws has become a nationwide trend that is garnering increasing amounts of support. Unfortunately, lawmakers in the Texas House and Senate do not agree with the approach.
Members of the state Congress were quick to speak out following the announcement of Harris County’s new policy, most of whom condemned the move. While the new policy is only concerned with the policing and prosecution of low-level offenses, Texas lawmakers have made the debate about more than only drug crime laws, they’ve also drawn into question whether local jurisdictions have any discretion when it comes to law enforcement. They believe that policy changes should only take place at the statewide level, which is unlikely to occur any time soon.
Other lawmakers, however, support that local officials have discretion in the crimes that they prosecute within their communities and jurisdiction. As they see it, local residents have supported the officials through their votes, so that they can have their voices heard on issues that are important to them. As Harris County has the belief that they’ll be able to protect public safety, end the overburdening of the criminal justice system, make more efficient use of public resources, and save significant amounts of money in the process, these legislators believe that Harris County’s policy shift is a reasonable one.
Although opinions do vary significantly, the fact is that the opinions about marijuana policy are shifting all across the nation, especially as the true cost of policing, prosecuting, and penalizing non-violent, low-level offenders is coming to light, as well as the impact that criminal records have on the lives of those convicted of the crimes. In Texas, Harris County is providing the leading edge of a new approach to drug crime enforcement.
While the new policy remains in effect, it’s important to keep in mind that it’s still possible to have legal problems for marijuana use and possession, particularly when higher quantities are involved, allegations of drug trafficking or sales are made, or when the arrest occurs in another jurisdiction. When you need a drug defense attorney Houston has the best. We can help you with any charges or criminal allegations that the government has levied against you.