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Sunday, April 30, 2017

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Kim Ogg blazes trail for decriminalizing marijuana


District Attorney Kim Ogg’s new policy does not involve jail or prosecution as a consequence for anyone found with less than four ounces of marijuana. | Katie Santana/The Cougar

The Harris County district attorney, the mayor of Houston, Houston Police Department chief and Harris County sheriff announced that law enforcement in Harris County will no longer arrest or cite anyone in the jurisdiction found with less than four ounces of marijuana.

District Attorney Kim Ogg’s new policy does not involve jail or prosecution as a consequence for anyone found with less than four ounces of marijuana as long as they attend a four-hour drug education course.

There will be no record or citation of the event so long as the violator attends the course. If they fail to attend, a warrant for their arrest will be issued and the usual procedures will ensue.

The ultimate goal of this policy is to lessen the strain on local courts and jails caused by tough, mandatory minimum sentences for possession of marijuana. Even HPD Chief Art Acevedo is on board with it.

So far, Ogg has gotten blasted by several other Texas public servants at various levels. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon have both voiced their disapproval with Harris County’s new stance.

Both have a point: That there is a proper way to go about changing laws, and taking the matter into her own hands is not one of them.

Ogg’s program, while implemented in an unconventional method, has a lot of potential to unclog courts and jails of offenders who would otherwise not have any reason to be in jail, besides being in possession of marijuana, which is a Schedule I substance according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Ever since the war on drugs began decades ago, the general idea has been to “get tough on drugs” with measures like minimum sentencing for possession being taken. The point of harsh sentences on drug possession was to deter U.S. citizens from using in the first place or to hypothetically set them straight with an unreasonable sentencing.

These laws have given life-altering sentences to many Americans. Some of them, besides the fact that they were smoking something declared illegal, are not violent and do not hurt others.

Laws are important and should be followed. That said, isn’t the purpose of laws to ensure that people live peacefully alongside each other? Locking up marijuana users who are not dangerous to anyone else is a senseless waste of taxpayer money and state resources.

Law enforcement should target enablers of drug use, like dealers. This new program does exactly that. Police won’t be obligated to go after users. They will be able to nail the root of the problem.

Furthermore, marijuana should not be that high on the city’s list of priorities, with worse drugs like synthetic cannabinoids (more commonly known on the streets as kush) having life-threatening effects on users. Suppliers should always be a higher priority in the eyes of law enforcement than users. If they can be isolated and taken care of, users will not have a supply.

As long as the state is not on board with lessening the consequences of minor drug offenses, Harris County’s program will be only a stopgap measure.

It’s one thing for an entire state to have a differing policy from the federal government, but it’s another thing for a local government to act in direct opposition to it’s state leaders.

Whether the program actually will make a difference is up in the air. It officially kicks in March 1.

Instead of taking the Lt. Gov. Patrick’s approach and coming in hot right off the bat, state leaders should wait and see how the policy performs before criticizing or taking action against it. I’d rather live with stoners than pay taxes for them to appear in court and then get locked up.

This is more than a call to “legalize it, bro.” It’s a call to save taxpayer money. There is no gain in locking up people who smoke marijuana but otherwise lead successful, productive lifestyles that contribute to our society.

There is actually a loss that equates to about $25 million in this county alone in doing so. Ultimately, the state needs to reexamine its policy toward marijuana. Is it really worth pursuing users? Kim Ogg and the rest of the leaders in the county have set a bold precedent.

Opinion editor Thomas Dwyer is a broadcast journalism sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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