First time cannabis possession will soon be decriminalized in Harris County, the most populous county in Texas, and the third most populous county in the entire United States.
Beginning on January 1st, those in the county caught in possession of up to two ounces of cannabis for the first time will no longer be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor that could land them in prison for up to 6 months. Instead, they’ll be given a citation and mandated to attend a diversion program.
Which is annoying, but much better than prison.
The new policy is called the First Chance Intervention Program. Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson is moving forth with the change despite widespread criticism from his colleagues in law enforcement.
“If [a diversion program is] offered at the pre-arrest stage, it frees up space in jail,” says Anderson. “It minimizes the administrative burdens that officers face when they file 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.”
The diversion program itself is nothing new — it’s been around long before this new policy. And data from the district attorney’s office shows that more than 90 percent of those who took advantage of the program did not re-offend, a much higher rate than found in those who didn’t attend the program.
Anderson says that only the first offense will be decriminalized under the new policy, but may change in the near future.
“After I saw these [stats], I said, hey, let’s look at what the recidivism rate would be for a second offender or a third offender,” Anderson said. “So we’re going to look at that.”
Harris County includes Texas’ most populous city, Houston. Overall, Harris County has a population of over 4 million, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau report.
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