Jake Rainey was only twenty years old when he picked up a ticket for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Jake, who was also a student at a Houston university, and an intern at a wealth management agency, had no prior offenses on his record. Before his marijuana ticket, Jake was simply a good kid with ambition and a bright future.
Fast forward one year, and Jake is still bearing the consequences of his ticket. He has graduated college, but his case is still being prosecuted, with charges against him pending. He has had to make appearances in court, in addition to paying hundreds of dollars in legal and court fees.
The charges against Jake can easily be discovered through a basic background check, which means potential employers see Jake’s criminal activity. This has left him with no employment after graduation, and an expensive legal maze to navigate through. He never thought that possession of a small amount of marijuana could change his life in such a drastic way.
Today, cases like Jake are easily prevented, thanks to Harris County District Attorney’s latest moves in deregulating marijuana possession, District Attorney Devon Anderson announced in October last year that Harris County would no longer prosecute non-violent, first-time offenders caught in possession of marijuana under 2 ounces.
Now, this doesn’t mean that marijuana is legal and that Houston is the new Denver. The idea is that marijuana offenders will be punished, but in a manner that reduces the burden on both the offender and the criminal justice system. They will be arrested and finger printed, but no charges will be filed, and the offenders will never enter the legal system.
That’s a big move for Harris County, where someone is arrested for marijuana possession every fifty minutes. A typical marijuana possession case goes through a police officer, a jailer, a prosecutor, a judge, a clerk, a defense lawyer, and a probation officer, and costs the state over $3,000 per case. Even Houston’s police chief Charles McClelland agreed that marijuana violations were creating an overbearing load on the legal system.
Possession of marijuana is still illegal in Harris County, but many offenders will no longer face prosecution or have charges filed against them. In the case of Jake Rainey, that would have meant no court dates and fees, and no blemishes on his record that are holding back his professional career.
That is exactly the purpose of Houston’s new law, according to Anderson. “We are targeting the people we believe are self-correcting and will be ‘scared straight’ by being handcuffed and transported,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to keep these individuals from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”
Harris County is one of the many places across the country getting looser on marijuana laws. While possession is not legalized to the extent of states such as Colorado and Alaska, the new regulations still address a valid concern for many first-time offenders, such as Jake, who don’t want to see their future blown away in a puff of smoke. It ensures that good people who make small mistakes are not harshly punished for their mistakes. Keeping small-time marijuana users out of the legal system helps establish a better use of resources for the criminal justice system, and a brighter future for people like Jake who have ambitions and talents than can contribute to the community, instead of being a burden on it.