Though marijuana possession remains a jailable crime in Harris County, the law of the land is shifting toward leniency for offenders. Both contenders in the November race for Harris County District Attorney have presented alternatives to convicting those caught with pot.
DA incumbent Devon Anderson and challenger Kim Ogg agree that the old ways need to change, but they clash on how much. The confusion likely stems from the fact neither candidate has the numbers to back her plan. One lacks a cost-savings analysis, and the other has provided practically useless estimates.
Early this month, Anderson told the Chron about her pilot program that would grant leniency to first-time marijuana offenders. Under that program, set to go into effect this fall, those suspected of marijuana possession would still be arrested and booked. But low-risk, first-time offenders would avoid conviction, and a record, if they completed a class and community service.
Challenger Ogg aims to make use of the 2007 state law that gives individual counties the choice to issue citations and court summons for misdemeanor pot possession instead of arresting and jailing offenders. Though Travis and to some extent Hays counties have implemented this citation authority, Harris County has traditionally erred on the tough-on-nonviolent-crime approach.
“The most important result that she’s (Anderson) looking for is to keep low level, first time offenders, people who have never been in trouble before, from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system,” Anderson spokeswoman Sara Kinney told the Press on Tuesday. “This takes a first time offender and hopefully keeps them from being put on a path that leads to more convictions, rather than on a path to a good job, or school.” Under current law, anyone with a drug conviction is ineligible for federal student loans or financial aid until they complete a drug rehab program or pass two unannounced drug tests.