Hey Houston! You won’t go to jail for your weed anymore!

…..Well, kinda. There are some “ifs” in there, of course.

Today, March 1, 2017, Harris County residents will not go to jail for possession of marijuana. Rather, you will receive a ticket and then have to complete a drug education course (sooooo drivers ed but for weed?).

Under the new “cite-and-release” policy, announced last month, police in Texas’ most populous county will instead offer four-hour drug education classes to anybody found with less than four ounces of marijuana. Harris County includes Houston, the fourth-most populous city in the U.S., with about 4.5 million residents.

Authorities will still arrest and prosecute cases when they find marijuana in school zones or in conjunction with other criminal behavior, and juveniles are not eligible for the program. But most low-level marijuana offenders will now avoid a trip to police station, won’t get booked into jail and won’t get a criminal record, as long as they complete the drug education course.

The classes cost $150, and financial aid will be available to people unable to pay. The county will pursue charges against those who fail to attend.

Officials say the new approach will save $26 million annually by lifting costs related to law enforcement, incarceration and the court system.


Again…PLEASE pay attention to the “ifs.”

IF you are in Harris County…

IF you have under four ounces (more than four ounces is still a felony)…

IF it is not in conjunction with another crime…

and IF you DON’T complete the course, THEN an arrest warrant WILL be put out on you.

I like it.  This is definitely a step in the right direction. There is no reason for people who are in possession of that small of an amount of weed to sit in jail. That’s ridiculous.

Why do I like it? Look at this…

But a report last year found that in the first six months of 2016, officers in Harris County had made more than 1,000 arrests involving people with less than two ounces of pot, 98 percent of them people in poorer communities.

Small-time marijuana charges still appear to be disrupting people’s lives. The Texas Organizing Project, a nonprofit that promotes social and economic equality, published a video last year that showed Harris County court magistrates making harsh assessments against defendants facing relatively minor charges.

In one clip involving a woman arrested for a misdemeanor marijuana charge, a judge doubles her bail from $1,000 to $2,000 after she responds to the judge’s question by saying “yeah” instead of “yes.” The woman has to remain in jail until the conclusion of her trial unless she comes up with $2,000, or a portion of it, to pay a commercial bail bondsman.

That is absurd.

Here are the steps law enforcement will take if one is caught with under four ounces of weed:

In Harris County, law enforcement officers who find probable cause to arrest someone with fewer than four ounces of marijuana will do two things: confiscate the drugs and have the person sign a contract promising to take the drug education class. The pot and paperwork will be dropped off at the station at the end of the shift.

If the offenders complete the class, the drugs are destroyed, the contract is filed away and there remains neither an arrest nor court record. If they don’t, an arrest warrant will be issued and a regular criminal case filed.

The program leaves no paper trail for offenders and encompasses up to 4 ounces, which would fill about two sandwich bags with the leafy green plant. It’s not an amount that would protect drug dealers, but it safeguards personal uses, said Dr. William Kelly, the director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice.


Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez praised the initiative and, on behalf of the City of Houston, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Houston Police Department Chief Art Acevedo did the same.

Acevedo thinks it can help his department improve public safety.

“What matters most to the people of Houston isn’t somebody with a baggy of marijuana, what matters most to them is what’s going on with burglaries of our residences, burglaries of our vehicles, armed robbery, sexual assaults. We are going to focus on being smart on crime, focused on crime,” Acevedo commented at the end of the press conference referring to the possibility the program will help HPD use its resources more effectively.


(Featured image via Ted S. Warren, STF)

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