On Thursday, February 16, Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg announced the formation of the Misdemeanor Marijuana Diversion Program (MMDP), which is a pre-charge diversion program for individuals who meet certain criteria and are in possession of four ounces or less of marijuana. Previously, those found with four ounces or less of marijuana faced criminal charges and jail time. The policy shift means that fewer low-level offenders will languish in jail and that they instead can continue working, caring for their families, and playing a productive role in their community. Importantly, Ogg’s decision helps align Houston’s marijuana policy with the views of an overwhelming majority of Texans, who either support marijuana legalization or decriminalization.
Jessica Brand, Legal Director for the Fair Punishment Project (FPP), responded to the announcement with the following reaction:
“Kim Ogg’s Marijuana Diversion Program is an important first step towards creating a more sensible, fair, and humane justice system. The program will keep thousands of individuals out of jail, allowing them to stay with their families, keep their jobs, and remain part of the community. While we are encouraged by this development, the the progress shouldn’t stop here. We hope this is a sign that D.A. Ogg will embark on a comprehensive set of much-needed reforms during her tenure.”
Jordan Steiker, Professor of Law, University of Texas School of Law and FPP Legal Advisory Committee Member said:
“The diversion program adopted in Harris County is both wise and compassionate: it prevents county resources from being consumed for low level activity and it gives offenders a productive way to rebound. It’s a win-win for the county and its citizens.”
Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor, Executive Director of Fair and Just Prosecution, and FPP Legal Advisory Committee Member stated:
“This new policy, and the changes that D.A. Ogg has already put in place in a short period of time, is reflective of a new generation of elected D.A.s willing to rethink past practices and bring a more nuanced understanding to how a prosecutor can – and should — promote community health and safety. This policy wisely recognizes the adverse employment, education, and housing consequences that flow from entry into the justice system; the limited resources of the D.A.’s office and need to balance where and how the power of prosecution is best exercised; and the inherent mission of the D.A. to seek justice and improve the fair administration of justice. I applaud D.A. Ogg for adopting one of the more extensive pretrial marijuana diversion programs in the nation and know that this is the first of many steps by prosecutors in her office – and nationwide – to advance thoughtful, smart and fair approaches to criminal justice practices.”