HARRIS COUNTY (Covering Katy) – Beginning March 1, 2017, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg will take it upon herself to effectively decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, instead of waiting for the Texas lawmakers to address the issue and have consistent laws statewide. Ogg’s plan creates a strange situation in places like Katy that stretch over three counties: Harris, Waller and Fort Bend.
The Katy area and the City of Katy are in Harris, Fort Bend and Waller counties, so Ogg’s decision to ignore low-level marijuana possession laws means, in some places, you’ll literally be allowed to possess marijuana at one end of a street, but you’ll get arrested, and be prosecuted, if you are caught at the other end of the same street. In the Katy area there are house lots that are split between two different counties. There are homes in the Katy area where it would seemingly be legal to possess marijuana on one side of the house but illegal if you had the drug on another side of the same home.
Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon takes his concerns one step further. He fears it could mean communities like Katy will become “a sanctuary city for dope smokers.”
“Unlike Harris County, Montgomery County will not become a sanctuary for dope smokers. I swore an oath to follow the law – all the laws, as written by the Texas Legislature. I don’t get to pick and choose which laws I enforce,” Ligon said.
While Waller County and Fort Bend County leaders have yet to speak out publicly, Ligon did so immediately. He believes Ogg is making a big mistake in priorities.
“Despite a rise in violent crime rates in Harris County, Ms. Ogg chooses to focus her attention on the issue of legalization of marijuana,” Ligon said. “I hope it’s a mistake in judgment on her part and not a sign of things to come,” he added.
“I respect the jurisdictional differences between Montgomery County and Harris County, and I hope she does too,” Ligon said.
Ogg’s plan has support from big names in the Harris County Democratic Party, but so far Republicans have shown no reaction to the plan that was announced yesterday. Democratic Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and his police chief Art Acevedo, and Democratic Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez all support Ogg’s plan.
The new policy, set to begin March 1, means that misdemeanor offenders with less than four ounces of marijuana will not be arrested, ticketed or required to appear in court if they agree to take a four-hour drug education class, the Houston Chronicle reported. Supporters say the move would save the county $10 million a year.
Every Harris County law enforcement agency would be affected, since they rely on the district attorney’s office to prosecute their cases. If the Katy Police arrest a person for possessing a small amount of marijuana in Harris County, the district attorney will not prosecute that case. But, if the Katy Police arrest a person in Fort Bend or Waller counties, that case will likely be prosecuted.
This situation leads Ligon to believe that people in communities like Katy could simply store and smoke their marijuana in a part of the community where the activity won’t be prosecuted.
Ogg says, “Twenty-three percent of all misdemeanor marijuana possession cases were dismissed in 2011, and in 2015 nearly one-third were dismissed.” Ligon believes that statement does not tell the whole story.
“Experienced prosecutors know that misdemeanor possession cases are usually filed in combination with other charges and are likely dismissed as part of a plea to another matter, or disposed of through pre-trial diversion programs, only after the defendant has had the opportunity to receive drug and alcohol treatment and counseling,” Ligon said in a statement released to the Houston area media on Wednesday.
The Ogg plan will work this way according to the Houston Chronicle: “Since there is no arrest, there is no arrest record. Since there is no court date, there are no court documents connected to the encounter. The plan calls for officers to seize the marijuana and drop it off at a police station at the end of their shift, along with a record of the encounter in case the suspect does not take the class.”