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Anderson updates pot prosecution policy

Good.

Devon Anderson

Small amounts of marijuana now mean a citation, not a ride to jail, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday.

The county’s top prosecutor outlined changes to a pilot plan for low-level offenders she implemented last year, one that she called a “huge cultural change for Harris County.”

Instead of arresting first offenders caught with less than 2 ounces of marijuana, all police officers across Harris County will offer a diversion program and release the suspect, Anderson said.

The change, which will become mandatory Jan. 1, means suspects who agree to the diversion program no longer will be taken to jail, go to court or face charges if they stay clean and complete classes or community service.

[…]

For the past year, those arrested by another law enforcement agency – like campus police, a constable’s office or officers in other municipalities like Bellaire or Pasadena – would be taken to a police station, probably booked into a jail cell and later appear in a courtroom. Then they could agree to take advantage of the program.

In the past year, 2,270 people have been enrolled. Of those, 78 percent were arrested, transported to a police station and saw a judge before being offered the program.

There are more benefits, which Anderson listed, when suspects are ticketed instead of transported.

“It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record,” she said. “When we don’t offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program.”

As noted, this is a modification to a policy Anderson proposed last year, which in turn was based on a plan put forth by Kim Ogg. I thought Anderson’s original plan should have gone farther – more like Ogg’s, to be precise – but better late than never. I hope this works as advertised, and I look forward to having more conversations about this kind of policy going forward.

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