By: Brian Rogers
© Houston Chronicle • Feb. 16, 2017
The Harris County district attorney’s plan to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana drew reactions swift and strong Thursday from both sides of the debate.
District Attorney Kim Ogg made the announced Thursday backed by a bevy of local officials, including Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, Sheriff Ed Gonzalez and Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis.
“The sky will not fall,” Acevedo said as he voiced his support. “There are already critics out there. We’ve been down this path before with my old department. Rather than see an uptick in crime, in the city of Austin we reduced violent crime between 2007 and 2014 by 40 percent.”
Ellis, a former state senator, likewise praised the move.
“For too long, Harris County jails have been filled with people arrested for minor offenses like misdemeanor marijuana possession, leading to dangerous overcrowding and costly prosecutions that do nothing to improve overall public safety,” he said. “This new diversion program has the potential to intervene in this vicious cycle by offering people the opportunity to avoid jail and the stigma of a drug conviction with regard to marijuana possession.”
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, however, accused Ogg of trying to legalize marijuana and breaking state law.
“Unlike Harris County, Montgomery County will not become a sanctuary for dope smokers,” Ligon said in a press release. “I hope it’s a mistake in judgment in judgment on her part and not a sign of things to come.”
PUSH BACK: Ogg under fire for new marijuana plant
Bellaire Police Chief Byron Holloway, however, said the program seems similar to a program former District Attorney Devon Anderson put into place.
“At first blush, I’m not seeing a difference,” he said. “This is basically giving deferred adjudication up front.”
He said he generally favors alternatives to arrests, and expects that the new district attorney will work closely with his office to clear up any questions about the program.
“We’re always searching for alternatives because not everybody always needs to be in jail,” he said.
Some community activists, including a contingent from Houston NORML – the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws – praised the initiative.
“We’ve been fighting for this for a while, so this is elating,” said Sam Oser, communications director for the pro-marijuana group, which campaigned for Ogg last year. “We’re very excited that she’s following through with her promises.”
The Texas Organizing Project, which organizes minority efforts in Harris County and two other counties, said the move could particularly help people of color.
“Jailing people for possessing small amounts of marijuana never made sense,” according to an emailed statement from Mary Moreno, TOP communications director. “But it did invite racial profiling by making it easier to jail black men and people of color. … Today justifies people’s faith in Kim Ogg.”
Paid for by Rodney Ellis Campaign Committee.