Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Happy marijuana freedom day!

If you didn't already know it, today is Marijuana Freedom Day (4/20, get it?). The folks over at NORML are planning events around the country both to protest the laws making marijuana illegal as well as to celebrate the herb, hippie lettuce, happy grass, pot - whatever you wish to call it. Houston's even in on the act.

As you may know, the Harris County Jail is packed to the gills -- due largely in part to people arrested and convicted of minor possession charges. The inmate processing center was clogged over the weekend that the Harris County Sheriff's Office announced that it would stop accepting people brought in by HPD for low-level traffic offenses. Of course that may have been because a plan for expanding the inmate processing center is scheduled to go before county commissioners.

How would I reduce overcrowding in the county jail? People arrested for what amounts to "personal use" quantities of marijuana (or as those brilliant scholars in the state legislature spell it - marihuana) should either be charged with a Class C misdemeanor for possession of paraphenalia or should be issued a citation with an order to appear in county court under the state's "Catch and Release" initiative.


According to Alan Bernstein, the Public Affairs Director of the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff's office never stopped accepting anyone brought to the jail by HPD. He said that it was HPD's decision to  stop making arrests for low-level traffic offenses.

Of course, what's really the difference between threatening not to accept arrestees and turning them away at the door?


Rachelle said...

I think the catch and release idea is a great one. Though I have to say I think the government should just legalize it and then tax it like they do cigarettes.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment. I don't know if I would go so far as to legalize marijuana -- I just know that we are wasting a lot of resources doing what we're doing now.

Thomas Hobbes said...

To be clear, HPD wasn't transferring low-level traffic offenders to the County Jail to begin with. They had to stop arresting them to ensure that they had room at the city jail for higher-level offenders, but the root cause of that was the HCSO restriction on the number of defendants they would accept from HPD at any given time. The HCSO did not turn away anyone transferred by HPD, but they did require HPD to call beforehand to find out how many they could bring.

It's also interesting that the defense bar isn't bothered by another curious byproduct of this cluster-cluck of a policy. How many charged defendants sitting at the city jail are receiving a probable cause hearing in absentia from the magistrate because they couldn't be transferred in time to be present for a PC hearing within 24/48 hours of arrest?

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thank you for your comment, Mr. Hobbes. You bring up a very good question that needs to be addressed.

We may never know the answer since a good chunk of those whose rights were violated will accept offers of time served at their first court appearances this week.