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Anderson proposes her own pot prosecution reform plan

It’s a trend.

Devon Anderson

A move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana emerged Wednesday as a major issue in the contentious race for Harris County District attorney with both candidates claiming ownership of the idea.

At a news conference, Republican Devon Anderson, the incumbent, said that beginning Monday, non-violent first offenders carrying less than 2 ounces of marijuana will be able to escape prosecution by performing eight hours of community service or going through a drug awareness class.

“We are targeting the people we believe are self-correcting and will be ‘scared straight’ by being handcuffed and transported,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to keep these individuals from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”

The announcement, a month before Anderson faces Democrat Kim Ogg in November’s election for district attorney, brought harangues from the challenger who in August announced her idea for dealing with misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“This is not a new plan,” Ogg said. “It’s a ‘me too’ program by a candidate who has shifted her position with the winds of political change.”

[…]

Anderson’s six-month pilot program is different because it only affects first offenders, about 2,000 people a year, the incumbent said. It also requires police officers to take suspects to a police station, write an offense report and catalog the evidence.

While they may sound similar, the two plans are fundamentally different because of their primary goal. Ogg’s plan is an effort to keep police officers on the street to catch more serious criminals. Anderson’s plan is a move to get first offenders to stop using the illegal drug before it affects their future.

See here for more about Ogg’s plan, which she formally announced in July but which she had been talking about for considerably longer. Ogg’s plan would have the greater impact, and given Anderson’s initial resistance to the idea of changing course on pot arrests, it seems likely that in the absence of a strong electoral challenge (and some political cover) she might not be talking about this at all. Still, even if she had to be led here, it’s good to see that being smarter and less reflexively punitive about drug offenses is now the mainstream bipartisan position. It’s another step down a long road towards much-needed broad reform, so kudos to Anderson for taking it.

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One Comment

  1. Steven Houston says:

    If Ogg were more interested in positive changes than just about getting elected, she would not be complaining about Anderson’s program. Further, is it not a good thing to be responsive to the public when a significant portion of the population is demanding change? To hear Ogg speak of it, Anderson listening to parts of the community for this change is not only a bad idea but forgets that it also comes with political costs because not a lot of republicans want prosecution changed.

    Ogg has also made it clear that the biggest selling point of her program and her major reasoning for embarking on it is that it is supposed to save the time of police officers on the street. As has been pointed out a number of times though, her program will do no such thing. The two largest police agencies in the area, HCSO and HPD, are still going to write a report, are still going to laser scan your hand for positive identification at a central facility, and still have to take your drugs to be tested and held for destruction. Your car, if you were driving, is still likely to be towed too, and all of it amounts to doing over 95% of the work as if the officer arrested someone. Both agencies have a system for filing charges using the computer that takes ten minutes and each will have to deal with those who don’t show up by filing a much more labor intensive county warrant.

    At no time has either Sheriff Garcia nor Chief McClelland suggested they would go along with anything departing from the above protocol for either proposal so the suggestion you would “just get a ticket” and go about your merry way does not seem very likely, nor can anyone other than those two change policy for their respective agencies. I know this seems rather nit picky but it is Ogg that is still going around selling the plan based on time savings more than anything else and she has been made aware that it won’t happen the way she continues to claim. If any of that changes, it will be great news but the devil is in the details when making promises you have no way of keeping, further marring Ogg’s candidacy.