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Is Harris County DA giving Houston a pass on pot?

January 7, 2017 GMT

Newly elected Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg has plans to decriminalize misdemeanor marijuana offenses.

Those now detained in Harris County who have never been arrested for marijuana before who are caught with less than 2 ounces are no longer arrested and instead are given a court summons. They then take part in a pretrial diversion program that includes fines, community service and drug education classes.

Ogg has said she believes all the resources currently used to slog pot-smokers through the courts and jails would be better used on combating violent crime. Ogg has estimated she could redirect $10 million of taxpayer dollars to locking up the criminals.

But before you decide to go out and test this new misdemeanor decriminalization law, you might want to be aware of several additional facts:

Marijuana possession remains a federal offense, and the federal law applies to offenses committed on federal property, as well as all national parks and military property nationwide, and other land under federal control. Federal law also applies to offenses involving interstate commerce and importation from other countries.

The federal charge of possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. For a second conviction, the penalties increase to a 15-day mandatory minimum sentence with a maximum of two years in prison and a fine of up to $2,500. Subsequent convictions carry a 90-day mandatory minimum sentence and a maximum of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Federal law also states that distribution of a small amount of marijuana, for no remuneration, is treated as possession.

Texas law says possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days imprisonment and a fine not to exceed $2,000. Possession of between 2 and 4 ounces of marijuana is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a fine not to exceed $4,000.

If you are stopped by police for driving under the influence of marijuana in Texas, any amount of marijuana that was in the driver’s blood or urine will establish that the driver was under the influence.

So, if you have been charged with a count of marijuana possession or marijuana-related driving offense, you should consult an experienced criminal defense attorney. While the penalties and consequences of a marijuana charge are governed by statutory law, only a local criminal defense attorney can tell you how cases like yours tend to be handled by prosecutors and judges in your jurisdiction.

Legal expert Mike Seiler is an attorney specializing in all aspects of criminal and civil litigation for Montgomery County and surrounding areas. He is one of very few attorneys in the region who have enjoyed successful careers in all three aspects of a courtroom – prosecutor, judge and defender.