FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Houston, TX – Pre-charge diversion program will go into affect March 1st in Harris County for misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. The Harris County DA, Kim Ogg, with support from the Harris County Sheriff, Ed Gonzalez and Houston Police Chief, Art Acevedo, will announce the plan on February 16th. Every law enforcement agency in Harris County will be participating in the countywide program.
The Houston chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has voiced support for the new program. “This is great news for Harris County,” said Houston NORML’s executive director, Cara Bonin, “These are people who haven’t necessarily done anything wrong, but people who have possessed something the government doesn’t want them to posses. Cannabis is a natural plant that is far less dangerous than alcohol and has medicinal benefits for many people. Law enforcement should focus on protecting our communities instead of wasting their resources arresting people and ruining their lives over a misdemeanor amount of cannabis. Our DA is taking a brave course of action to minimize the detrimental affect that prohibition has on our communities.”
Under the new program, individuals will no longer be arrested, charged, sent to jail, have the driver license suspended, or have a criminal record for misdemeanor marijuana possession (up to 4 ounces). Instead, they will simply agree to complete a 4-hour educational class within 90 days. Once the class is completed, the issue is put to rest. They will not have a criminal charge filed and will not have to appear in court.
There will not be an arrest or an arrest record. There will not be a court date or any court documents of the offense. The officer will simply confiscate the marijuana and keep documentation of the encounter. If the individual fails to complete the class within 90 days, a criminal charge will then be filed. Repeat offenders will be eligible to be diverted through the program multiple times regardless of their criminal history.
There are a few exceptions to the program. Individuals currently on probation, those on bond or deferred adjudication, those in a penal institution or correctional facility, those who have offended in a school zone, and juveniles under the age of 18 will not be eligible for the new pre-charge diversion program. Juveniles will be processed through the juvenile justice system and will still be able to utilize existing juvenile diversion programs.
The program is expected to save Harris County more than $10 million per year by diverting an estimated 12,000 people from the criminal justice system and would save officers hours of processing time now spent on misdemeanor marijuana possession cases. The new policy will save up to 12 hours of processing time per month for as many as 1,000 suspects, this will ease the workload on administrators and jailers who transfer and process inmates.
Harris Count District Attorney Kim Ogg has pioneered the new program with the goal of reducing the cost burden for taxpayers associated with court costs and administrative processing. She wants law enforcement to focus more of their resources on protecting our communities from violent criminals.