Advocates push for change in handling pot possession

They suggest Harris County adopt a cite and release policy for marijuana possession
December 3, 2013 4:40:38 PM PST
One group wants Harris County to stop arresting people busted for pot. An interesting plea was presented Tuesday at commissioners' court, calling for a change in how some of those cases are handled.

Possessing any amount of marijuana will get you thrown in jail in Harris County.

"If you have a joint in your ashtray, I don't see if there's any reason to arrest someone because of that," said marijuana advocate Keith Woods.

Chafic Issa added, "Small quantity or big quantity is the same."

A group of marijuana advocates came to commissioner's court Tuesday, arguing that those caught with less than two ounces of pot should be given tickets and released instead of going to jail. Cite and release is allowed under Texas law and cities like Austin have adopted it.

Advocate Clay Jones explained, "We need people in jail that we need to be protected from. We don't need people in jail that we're angry at because they didn't follow the law exactly."

Alan Bernstein with the Harris County Sheriff's Office said, "The Houston Police Department has chosen not to use it. Sheriff Garcia has chosen not to use it, but it's always an issue that's under discussion."

Bond for misdemeanor possession is set at less than $100, so only about 25 inmates are currently incarcerated for it -- less than one percent of the total jail population. But cite and release would alleviate processing back-ups.

"It would have a reduction in the number of people being processed through the front door and posting bond and getting out the out door," Bernstein said.

KTRK legal analyst Joel Androphy says cite and release would only work with cooperation.

"You could be driving through Houston, where it's legal per se, and then you drive to Fort Bend County where it's illegal and you're not supposed to go through that," Androphy explained.

Officials with the sheriff's office say they do revisit and reconsider this option often, and they haven't ruled out the possibility of adopting it in the future.

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