A city in Texas has taken the first steps towards decriminalizing marijuana. Officials in Houston started a new progressive program Wednesday, in which people caught with small amounts of marijuana will be able to take a drug education class instead of spending time behind bars, according to reports.
Instead of offenders facing misdemeanor charges and up to 180 days in jail, which is the current law for persons caught with less than two ounces of pot elsewhere in Texas, citizens in Harris County discovered with less than four ounces of cannabis will now be able to avoid criminal charges and take a four-hour educational class.
Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project Board Member Miriam Krinsky told the Houston Chronicle Wednesday that the program was one of the “more extensive pretrial marijuana diversion programs in the nation.”
She added: “This is the first of many steps by prosecutors… to advance thoughtful, smart and fair approaches to criminal justice practices.”
Houston and Harris County may not be the only areas in the Lone Star State taking a new approach to marijuana possession. Legislators filed several requests on the first day of the 2017 congressional season to decriminalize possession of the plant entirely, asking for charges to be reduced to a smaller civil infraction fine for just $250 instead of offenders having to face jail time and a criminal record.
More and more Texans have begun to show support for marijuana reform. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll found that 49 percent of voters supported marijuana legalization of any kind while another 28 percent said they’d support medical marijuana legalization only. Only 23 percent of voters said that marijuana should remain completely illegal.
If Texas was to even just legalize medical marijuana, which could benefit about 1.9 million patients, the state could rack in more than $600 million worth of revenue by 2021, according to a Forbes report Wednesday. If recreational laws were passed, the state could potentially gross about $1.7 billion by 2021.