Despite Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s misdemeanor marijuana diversion program, not all persons arrested with marijuana get a chance to participate and keep their record clear. Out of 61 police agencies in the nation’s third-largest county (with more than 4 million residents), a dozen haven’t referred anyone to the program designed to lower the county’s 10,000 yearly arrests for pot possession.
In short, marijuana possession punishments vary widely depending on where you are in Harris County.
A majority of police agencies ignoring the program are located around Galveston Bay. They include Lakeview, Morgans Point, Friendswood, Nassau Bay, and Seabrook police departments.
Disregarding Ogg’s diversion program, instead these agencies have sent suspects to small municipal courts in their jurisdictions, which can make money via payments of fines and court costs. They’ve done this by filing a citation for possession of paraphernalia for the container holding the marijuana, which is a class C misdemeanor.
These actions subvert Ogg’s goal of diverting suspects caught with small amounts of marijuana — under four ounces — to a four-hour class on decision-making at a cost of $150. The class teaches a cost-benefits analysis matrix which enables participants to consider the long-term and short-term effects of their decisions.
When that class is completed within 90 days, the charge is erased and there is no official court record or arrest record for the case.
In less than a year since its inception, the diversion program has had over 3,200 participants. All participants have had a chance to learn and keep their criminal record clear.
Some small-town local police have said they take suspects to their own municipal court rather than bringing them to Harris County facilities in downtown Houston in order to save time.
But that’s not a legitimate excuse.
In truth, officers who cite suspects don’t have to take them anywhere, but rather can confiscate the marijuana, direct suspects to the diversion program, and resume their patrols.
Ogg says that by avoiding arrests, jail time, court time, and other procedures, her diversion program for marijuana possession can save the county $27 million annually. That money then can be applied to law enforcement efforts to fight other offenses, including violent crime.
Unlike alcohol — a drug in itself — marijuana isn’t known to lead to violent crimes.
“Officers have long had discretion in how they handle misdemeanor drug arrests,” Ogg said in a statement reported by the Houston Chronicle. “This is a collaborative effort to better spend taxpayers’ money, including combating robbers, rapists and murderers.”
Ogg believes the diversion program “holds offenders accountable and provides them a way to avoid criminal records that disqualifies them from job, housing and educational opportunities. It also keeps more officers on the streets to keep the public safe.”
But as noted, the law is applied differently in Harris County, depending on where you live.
If you or someone in your family faces a charge for marijuana possession under four ounces in Harris County and weren’t given the option to enter the diversion program to clear your record, alert an experienced Houston drug crime defense lawyer at the Neal Davis Law Firm.
Contact us today for your case review, and let us help you defend against a drug charge for marijuana or other drugs.
Your freedom may depend on it.