Harris County plans next month to decriminalize some marijuana possession, but Galveston County law enforcement officials say they have no plans to follow suit.
On Feb. 16, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced that first-time drug offenders found in possession of less than four ounces of marijuana would no longer be automatically arrested. Instead, people that fall under that category would be offered the chance to take a four-hour drug intervention course.
If offenders agree to take the course, they won’t be arrested. But law enforcement officials will still confiscate and dispose of the marijuana.
The move was meant to reduce the costs that come from low-level drug prosecutions, Ogg said. Her office had spent more than $200 million in the past 10 years prosecuting marijuana offenses.
The change in policy will begin in Harris County on March 1. But Galveston County officials on Wednesday said people shouldn’t expect laws here to change along with their neighbors.
“We have not changed the way we prosecute marijuana possession cases,” Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady said. “We will continue to work with our local police officers to enforce Texas law, as written by our duly elected state legislators.”
Any decisions to decriminalize marijuana offenses in Galveston County would go through Roady’s office, he said. If any rules were changed, it would be after consultation with local police departments.
“There hasn’t been any discussion about changing,” Roady said.
There may be exceptions in some local cities. Both Friendswood and League City are partly in Harris County. Depending on where a person is arrested in those cities, they would be sent through either the Galveston County or Harris County justice system. Spokespeople for both police departments said the Harris County District Attorney’s office had not provided information to them about how to act moving ahead under the changes in the law.
“We’re waiting for direction from the DA’s office,” said officer Lisa Price, the Friendswood Police Department’s spokeswoman.
Harris County’s policy was condemned by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, but received support from some Democrats who represent Houston in the state legislature.
Possession of four ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor in Texas, punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a $4,000 fine.