A Vote for Kim Ogg is a Vote for Decriminalization of Weed
Make Room in Jails for Murderers Not Stoners
By Omar Afra
Illustration by Shelby Hohl
For some time, the national discussion on marijuana laws and their massive effect on the U.S criminal justice system has singularly focused on solutions at the federal level and completely ignored how we can make serious progress by putting the right people in office at both the municipal and state levels. And let’s face it — our criminal justice system here in Texas has gotten bat-shit-loco.
There is also a huge racial component to our incarceration of those who possess marijuana. The US leads the world in incarceration and even beats our exponentially larger competitor, China, and Texas is among the largest incarcerators in the union. In Texas, you are 2 1/2 more times likely to be arrested for marijuana possession if you are black than if you’re white, despite the fact that African-Americans and Anglos get high at the same rate.
That said, the overwhelming majority of locked up individuals in the US are for nonviolent offenses. More often than not, these are simple possession cases. Naturally, a marijuana charge for a nominal amount of the herb on possession often leads to families being torn apart, peoples lives being ruined, and presents an enormous strain on our criminal justice system.
Americans often look to the federal government to provide sweeping legislation that would legalize or decriminalize the American pastime of getting high, eating pizza, and searching for your car keys. But over the past several years, I’ve seen decriminalization and even legalization take hold in states and municipalities across the country.
Houston attorney Kim Ogg has taken notice of one particular instance in Brooklyn where the local District Attorney, Kenneth Thompson, made a public decision to not prosecute anyone for misdemeanor marijuana possession. (The district attorney does the retain the ability to prosecute on a case-by-case basis, like if somebody decided to spark up a blunt at an elementary school playground.)
Here in Houston, public officials and law-makers are starting to get hip to the fact that prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana is an overwhelming strain on families in the system as well. In December 2014, Houston police chief Charles McClellan made national headlines after saying, “We cannot criminalize such a large population of society that engage in casual marijuana use”. And since 2014, the field of candidates for district attorney has flooded the local narrative with ways they seek to minimize marijuana prosecution. Our current district attorney, Devon Anderson, introduced a “Cite and Release” policy where those accused of possession are taken to jail, processed, and subsequently released. Though this represents a step in a more humane direction, it does nothing to address incarceration rates and the disparity between blacks and whites in regard to prosecution and arrest.
When Kim Ogg announced that she would categorically deny prosecuting any misdemeanor offenses, she went further than any candidate has on the subject. Ogg’s Democratic opponent for district attorney, Morris Overstreet, is looking to continue the ‘Cite and Release’ policy as effectuated by Devon Anderson. Ogg estimates that a policy of decriminalization of minor amounts of weed would allow the county to divert $10 million away from low-level marijuana cases towards violent crimes, framing the policy as a way to more effectively prosecute violent offenders.
Ogg says “With the rising violent crime rate in Houston, it’s more absurd than ever to be spending $10 million per year prosecuting misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases. Your next DA must lead the charge to transform our justice system into a 21st century operation that recognizes and meets the community’s real public safety needs: protection from those who deliberately endanger us and our families.”
Considering the city’s and the county’s experience of unprosecuted rapes and murders, $10 million represents a much-needed resource to prosecute and investigate some of the most heinous crimes. And this is why, for only the 2nd time ever, I am endorsing a local candidate — the same candidate — because fixing marijuana laws is bigger than giving people the freedom to get high. It’s about having the resources to prosecute the real predators in our community, keeping families together, and not forcing our police officers to criminalize such a large part of our population.