Houston, TX: Houston County District Attorney Kim Ogg has announced plans to expand a countywide program shielding marijuana possession offenders from criminal records. The county is the third largest in the nation.
Under current policy, first-time offenders found in the possession of two ounces or less of marijuana may participate in a pre-trial diversion program. Those who complete the program do not have criminal charges filed against them and do not receive a criminal record.
Under the new policy, which is anticipated to begin March 1, those defendants who possess up to four ounces of cannabis will be eligible for the program, which consists of completing a four-hour class. Defendants have 90 days to complete the course. Those who do not finish the program face arrest and criminal charges.
Harris County spends some $26 million annually prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana offenders, Ogg said. Prosecuting these cases takes up an estimated ten percent of the county court dockets, she added.
Under state law, the possession of up to four ounces of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Legislation (House Bill 81) is pending in the Texas legislature to reduce the penalties associated with the possession of up to one ounce of cannabis to a civil violation punishable by a fine only - no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.
For more information, please contact Justin Strekal, NORML Political Director, at (202) 483-5500, or visit Houston NORML.