Texas. Yes, that Texas — the one known for cowboys, oil titans, and conservative presidents; you know, Texas, United States of 'Murica — is about to begin a journey that I would never have bet on just a few years ago. Harris County, Texas, is about to decriminalize marijuana starting Friday.
You can thank Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson. He introduced the public policy mandate "First Chance Intervention Program" last year, deferring to the arresting officers discretion for referral; though, just a fifth of cases have been referred. As of Friday, all first time offenders with two ounces or less will be eligible.
Eligible for what? Well, Texas' slow-as-molasses judicial system does not lend itself to reform or magnanimous decisions on subjects so controversial as marijuana in a highly conservative population such as Harris County. Though, the DA is certainly giving a push in the right direction for a county that has more people than the entire state of Washington, where recreational weed is already legal.
A person is eligible if they have no outstanding warrants, past convictions, nor has deferred probation through another program or this one previously. They must act quickly (within three days of arrest) to schedule an appointment, then show up, pay a $100 fee, and spend eight hours in class or community service all while not breaking the law otherwise.
You might say, "Hey, that is still pretty rough for a non-violent crime." And I would agree, but then remind you that it is far better than a possible six months incarceration and $2000 fine.
Why the push for such a program? Anderson puts it best: "If it’s offered at the pre-arrest stage, it frees up space in jail... 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."