Starting Wednesday, people who are caught with small amounts of marijuana in Harris County, Texas, will have a get-out-of-jail-free card.
Last month, Texas police announced a new policy, effective March 1, that offers a four-hour drug education class to anyone found with less than four ounces of marijuana – which means, no jail time, no tickets, no court appearances, and no criminal record.
The classes cost $150; financial aid will be available to people who are unable to pay. Those who refuse to take the course will be taken to jail and charged.
"We have spent in excess of $250 million, over a quarter-billion dollars, prosecuting a crime that has produced no tangible evidence of improved public safety," Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg told the Houston Chronicle. "We have disqualified, unnecessarily, thousands of people from greater job, housing, and educational opportunities by giving them a criminal record for what is, in effect, a minor law violation."According to city law enforcement officials, the "Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program" applies to people 17 and older facing no additional charges other than misdemeanor marijuana possession.
Officials claim that the new approach will save $26 million annually by lifting costs related to incarceration, law enforcement, and the court system.
"When you have 10,000 cases on a 100,000-plus case docket that are simple marijuana possession cases, you look for smart ways to resolve those so that you can dedicate your resources to the really serious crimes," Tom Berg, Harris County's first assistant district attorney, told The Huffington Post.Should marijuana be legalized in Texas?
According to University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll published last month, only 17 percent of Texans think that pot should be criminalized under all circumstances – down 24 percent two years ago. But, more than 80 percent support legalizing at least some use of marijuana, including 53 percent who believe Texas should go beyond medical marijuana and allow possession for recreational use.
"The number of people who want to keep marijuana completely illegal decreased by seven points," poll Co-Director Jim Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin said in a statement. "The commensurate shift is in Republicans saying small amounts should be legal, and those who said any amount should be legal increased by six points."
"The other thing that may be going on here is the possible disappearance of the medium ground," Henson added. "It reminds me of what happened with gay marriage, where people often chose the civil union option. A similar thing is happening with medical marijuana as a kind of way station."
Where can Americans legally light up?
- Alaska – Adults 21 and over can enjoy the ganja in Alaska. Residents can use, possess, and transport up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use.
- California – Cali was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. In 2016, CA became even more pot-friendly when they made it legal to use and carry up to an ounce without a prescription.
- Colorado – there are several marijuana dispensaries in Colorado. Residents and tourists can purchase up to one ounce of weed.
- Maine – residents of Maine can possess a whopping two-and-a-half-ounce bag of marijuana.
- Massachusetts – on Dec. 15, 2016, Massachusetts began allowing residents to carry and consume small amounts of weed and grow up to 12 plants in their homes.
- Nevada – on Jan. 1, residents of Nevada were given the thumbs up to carry up to an ounce of pot.
- Oregon – in 2015, Oregon got the green light to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to four plants at home.
- Washington – Washington legalized recreational use in 2012.
- Washington, DC – residents in DC can possess up to two ounces of pot and "gift" up to one ounce.