Starting next year, Houston’s Harris County no longer will file state jail felony charges against suspects found with only a trace – less than a hundreth of a gram – of illegal drugs, District Attorney Pat Lykos said yesterday. Instead, people found with crack pipes with nothing more than residue inside or other drug paraphernalia, would face a misdemeanor ticket, which carries a maximum fine of $500.
The pending change was hailed by defense lawyers, but criticized by police officers. “It ties the hands of the officers who are making crack pipe cases against burglars and thieves,” said Gary Blankinship, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union. “A crack pipe is not used for anything but smoking crack by a crack head. Crack heads, by and large, are also thieves and burglars. They’re out there committing crimes.” Lykos said there were several reasons to change the policy, including the inability of defense experts to re-test drug residue that is destroyed when it is analyzed. Lykos said the move “gives us more of an ability to focus on the violent offenses and the complex offenses. When you have finite resources, you have to make decisions.”