Holding Small Amounts Of Pot Will Still Get You Jail Time In Houston

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To Houstonians holding their breath that the cops here might follow the lead of other Texas cities and allow officers to just issue a ticket to the fine folk caught holding a small bit of marijuana, you may as well exhale.

It ain't going to happen.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt said as much Wednesday at the Houston-Harris County Regional Drug Summit held at the Baker Institute.

“We arrest a lot of people for trace amounts of narcotics,” Hurtt said during a panel discussion over lunch, “because we get a lot of calls saying, ‘someone broke into my car’ or, ‘someone stole my computer,’ so we do it to prevent more serious crimes from occurring.”

Burglars and car-jackers, Hurtt said, “are just one step from being homicide suspects.”

Earlier this month, the Austin police made the news for installing a “cite and release” policy, whereby officers are given the authority to ticket lawbreakers caught in possession of small amounts of weed, and not drag them off to jail.

Proponents of the policy say, among several arguments, that it saves taxpayer money spent incarcerating and prosecuting these non-violent suspects.

But HPD has a different take.

“Who’s to say that if you do cite an individual and then release them that night,” says HPD spokesman John Cannon, who was at the drug summit, “that that individual isn’t then going to go out and burglarize a car to get money to pay for narcotics?”

Cannon tells Hair Balls that the reason officers arrest these seemingly low-level criminals is because most of the auto and home burglaries that take place are carried out to get money for drugs.

“The philosophy is,” he said, “if you can keep someone off the streets and off the street corner, even if it’s just for several days, then you’re keeping someone off the streets who is not going to be able to commit a crime. And if you call the police and are seeing low-level activity, nobody’s got guns or knives, you just know that they’re kids or young people hanging out, you want us to go there and take care of it. You don’t want to see that kid there the very next night.”

During his speech, Hurtt also proudly announced the quantity of some of the drugs his officers have seized as of this month:

1,758 pounds of powder cocaine

44 pounds of crack cocaine

39,000 pounds of marijuana

37 pounds of heroin

Some, however, say these numbers do not mean what they appear to.

James Gray, a judge in arch-conservative Orange County, California, is a staunch Libertarian and long-time advocate of new drug laws and policies. He said Monday at the Baker Institute that at best police and border agents are seizing 5 to 10 percent of the drugs imported into the country.

“A ton seized,” he said, “is not a victory. It’s a symbol of how deep the problem is.”

But as far as HPD is concerned, their job is to arrest those breaking the law.

Says Cannon, “You’ll have people saying, ‘It’s tying up too much of our prison space, it’s a low-level crime, they’re not doing violent crime, they’re not a threat to society.’ Well, we argue against that.”

-- Chris Vogel

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