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Rethinking Marijuana Possession Penalties and Transitional Artifacts: Houston Matters for Friday, August 8, 2014

A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union reported Harris County had one of the highest rates of marijuana arrests in 2010. Nearly 12,000 people in Harris County were busted for pot possession. Getting caught with even a little bit of marijuana in Texas is going to cost you. Possessing two ounces or less […]

A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union reported Harris County had one of the highest rates of marijuana arrests in 2010. Nearly 12,000 people in Harris County were busted for pot possession.

Getting caught with even a little bit of marijuana in Texas is going to cost you. Possessing two ounces or less is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine. Two to four ounces carries a jail sentence of up to one year and a $4,000 fine.

These are penalties some officials in Harris County want to see changed.

Kim Ogg, the Democratic nominee for Harris County district attorney, recently announced that she wants to revise penalties for low-level possession of marijuana. Under her plan, those arrested with less than four ounces, a misdemeanor possession, would be sent to community service instead of jail.

District Attorney Devon Anderson says her office is working on a different program with the same goal. She’s working with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and the Houston Police Department on a pilot Marijuana Intervention Program that will be implemented this fall. The DA’s office plans to roll out more details in the coming weeks. DA Anderson agrees low-risk offenders are straining resources, and the county needs an alternative program.

On this edition of Houston Matters, we discuss past efforts to revise marijuana penalties locally and statewide with Sandra Guerra Thompson, Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at the University of Houston Law Center.

Then, we explore the pros and cons of revising penalties for low-level possession. Proponents say it would save taxpayers money, and free up law enforcement to pursue more serious offenses. Opponents have public safety concerns. We hear from Terry Nelson, Executive Vice Chairman of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, and Kevin Lawrence, Executive Director of the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Also: A lot can happen in a week. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it downright ugly. When faced with intriguing developments in the week’s news, we turn to our panel of “non-experts” to parse The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Houston news. This week, panelists Mark Bennett, Joe Holley and Aurora Losada discuss the equal rights ordinance challenge falling short, Houston’s City Council revising the city code to allow app-based transportation services like Uber and Lyft to legally operate in the city, a visit from three celebrated Spanish chefs and what their Houston stop signals about H-town’s growing prominence in the food world, and just what we should make of a Houston law professor’s algorithm to predict Supreme Court rulings.

Plus: a Houston couple turns trash into art – or, at least “transitional artifacts.” Houston Matters’ Edel Howlin will have a report.

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