05/12/17 Kim Ogg

Cultural Baggage Radio Show

Kim Ogg, District Attorney of Houston Texas re cannabis, bail reform, Dr. Elias Jackson, MMJ Patients: Ramano Harding & Gretchen Majnadi at Global Marijuana March, Heather Fazio of MPP re Texas' near misses

Audio file


MAY 12, 2017


DEAN BECKER: Hi, this is Dean Becker. I want to thank you for joining us on this edition of Cultural Baggage. I got a chance to talk to one of my good friends, here's part of that discussion.

Last night, there was a big hearing in the legislature about medical marijuana.

KIM OGG: Oh, how late did it go?

DEAN BECKER: About one thirty in the morning.

KIM OGG: Yeah. Last time I testified on behalf of the proposed changes to marijuana legislation, I testified at two in the morning.

DEAN BECKER: Wow. Well, that was --

KIM OGG: They're doing that on purpose, you know.

DEAN BECKER: Well, to forestall, or keep people from showing up, I guess.

KIM OGG: That's right. Make it difficult, try and wait people out.

DEAN BECKER: Best I understand it, 65 people testified in favor of the bill, one against it. So, anyway.

KIM OGG: Which bill was it?

DEAN BECKER: Oh, the 2107, the medical bill, I believe it is.

KIM OGG: Okeh, good, that's -- that's the one that has the best chance.

DEAN BECKER: Well, it should --

KIM OGG: In my understanding.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah. I tell you what, I want to start this off formally, if we can.

KIM OGG: Sure, go ahead.

DEAN BECKER: All right. Well, folks, once again I'm happy to be speaking with the district attorney of Harris County, Houston, Texas. She's just passed her 100 days, I guess, with, I consider to be flying colors. With that I want to welcome District Attorney Kim Ogg. Hey, Kim.

KIM OGG: Hey, Dean, thanks for having me back on the show.

DEAN BECKER: Yeah, Kim, I, there's many things I want to talk about. The first on my list, I guess, we should talk about the implementation of the misdemeanor marijuana diversion program. And it's about 50 days old, I guess, at this time, and you sent me some results that look to be very promising, but, what's your summation, how's it working out so far?

KIM OGG: Well, I think it's too early to give it a grade, but I can tell you that the savings in both lives and taxpayer dollars wasted is already immense. More than a million seven in savings, and over 600 people diverted around jail, since the program began, on the forty seventh day of our administration.

DEAN BECKER: Now, Kim, this is requiring the cooperation, the implementation of not just the sheriff and the police chief but constables and others. Is that proving to be a bit of an impediment kind of moving it from one side to the other?

KIM OGG: No, it's not, Dean, in fact, I think the most newsworthy information about our marijuana diversion program is the complete and total support of the Houston area law enforcement community. I talked with police chiefs and constables and leaders in law enforcement of more than ninety different agencies over the course of the two months or so that we were working on the program fulltime, putting it together, it was the first and top priority of my administration, and we were welcomed with open arms. Law enforcement knows that during these times of limited resources, better than anyone, that their priorities need to be on crimes against people and property, not busting people for tiny amounts of marijuana.

And so, we made changes, they had suggestions, they had concerns about different proposed aspects of the program. And I think that the collaboration was invaluable. And when we announced in mid-February that the program was going to move forward March First, you were there, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am.

KIM OGG: We had dozens of law enforcement officers and representatives there to support the program. They're ready to divert, they know that it's a waste of their time in terms of making any real dent in public safety. No evidence shows that aggressive prosecution of possession of marijuana, simple possession, has ever made us safer. And we're all ready to clear the table and work on robbery and murder and the real cases that our public and our constituents want us working on.

So it was exciting, and their support was welcome, and that to me is what gave it a national newsworthiness.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, exactly right, and it certainly made a big national splash. Yeah, I was there, as you say, you had the police chief, the sheriff, the constables, you had about a dozen ministers behind you. It seemed to be a day of celebration, really.

KIM OGG: Well, it was a promise kept. I ran for three years on several different platforms, but our promise to prioritize crimes and to treat minor infractions of the law more humanely and sanely, by not giving people for simple misdemeanor possession of marijuana a permanent criminal record, resonated with everybody.

Our city and greater Houston area's economic health depends on a good strong healthy workforce, and with, you know, continual convictions for tiny infractions of the law, that keep people from opportunities, the whole region's economy suffers.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am. Now, let's see, I'm looking at the graph you sent me, it shows the average age being 25, of those who are using the marijuana misdemeanor --

KIM OGG: People who've been caught and diverted. But this is my favorite, Dean, the ages range, and it says 13, it should be 17, because juveniles are excluded, and so if there's a 13 year old in there, it may change the average age a little bit, but the high end was 68, and while I know you're not that old, I thought you might know somebody who is.

DEAN BECKER: Actually, I am exactly 68.

KIM OGG: Well, if it was you, I'm glad we diverted you, and if it was somebody else that's your contemporary, I'm glad too.

DEAN BECKER: Yes, ma'am. Ah, no, I've spent my time behind bars, back when I was a kid. Again, around that average age of 25. Those are the ones that are out there being a little stupid on our city streets, and need a little redirection.

KIM OGG: You know, we can't legalize marijuana, the executive branch can use its discretion and the immense authority of the district attorney in terms of accepting charges or not to handle -- the change the way we handle marijuana offenders, but it's up to our legislature to act responsibly, and to really consider the damage being done through the imposition of permanent criminal records against thousands and thousands of people statewide. Ten thousand a year just in Harris County alone.

And I think we're going to have to look to our legislature to help make it right, especially for those who medically need marijuana.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly. You know, I spent some time, it's been a few weeks back, I went to Austin, I talked to several legislators, senators up there, and behind closed doors, they get it. It's them developing the courage to say in public or within a hearing what they can say, you know, privately behind closed doors. It's -- courage is lacking, but it seems to be growing, does it not?

KIM OGG: Yes. But I -- and it is, you're exactly right, this is a matter of political will. And I hope to have leadership from the front during these critical times in our country, on the issue of marijuana here in Harris County would inspire some of our legislators to make the move and at least vote in favor of medical marijuana legalization, because I think our veterans, I think people with children who've got serious epileptic disorders, and others suffering from chronic pain, really need compassionate alternatives to pharmaceutical -- to pharmaceutical relief.

And I'm just hoping that our legislature will look at the success that we're having in Houston diverting people already. Crime is not up, so far we've had about ten percent of the people diverted go through our class. We're, we've now started texting our class participants, four times a day, to remind them don't go to jail, sign up for the class. And we're saving money, and we're saving police officers' time, and we're saving people's professional lives in the sense that, you know, we've stopped limiting their opportunities through these -- through the execution of draconian sentencing for small amounts of marijuana.

So I'm proud of what we're doing, and I urge the legislature to move forward, and if they don't do it this session, that -- then I urge the community, who understands the benefits of medical marijuana, to keep the pressure on and keep talking to their legislators and pushing them. Business organizations and associations are for this. There are thinktanks on the right of the Republican Party who are for this, right here in Texas, and it's one place where a liberal Democratic and a libertarian Republican alliance could move this thing through the legislature, but they're going to have to have the political will to do it, and if it doesn't happen this session, then I hope the community keeps the pressure on for two years from now.

DEAN BECKER: And, I want to talk about some of the other things you've done. You had that Jenny's Law, you went before the legislature and helped push that item through, which will no longer persecute people waiting to testify at a trial, and I want to congratulate you on that.

KIM OGG: Listen, thank you, it's a great accomplishment, although the governor -- it is not passed out of the House yet, and so we've still got some hurdles to clear, but you're absolutely right, we asked Whitmire to sponsor, Senator Whitmire to sponsor that bill, we asked Representative Carol Alvarado to sponsor the companion bill in the House, and this is legislation that would prevent a district attorney from jailing any victim or witness in a case absent legal representation being provided by court for them, when a prosecutor wants to put them in jail for refusal to appear or testify.

And it's really a simple matter of due process. I just believe that crime victims ought to have at least equal protection to the perpetrators who commit the crimes against them, and we provide due process for those accused of crimes, and so it struck me as not -- as very unjust, just unfair, that Devon Anderson's administration made a practice of jailing victims in certain cases, and I was shocked to learn it, and I found out in addition to Anderson's administration, other administrations around the state are doing it. And while it was not common, it was happening, all over the state.

Our public rejects this idea. They don't believe anyone deserves this kind of treatment, much less victims who are brutalized by their attackers, who are left permanently emotionally and physically scarred sometimes, and who have a lot of recovery to accomplish, and so the prosecutors simply cannot be allowed, and should never want to cause more damage to a crime victim by putting them in jail to ensure their appearance for trial. There's lots of other things that we can do, that can ensure a witness's appearance in court.

So, I'm glad that -- I'm very proud of our accomplishment in the legislature so far, but I want to knock on wood, you can hear me, the legislature's not done yet with this law, and we've got more work to do to get the governor to sign it. But I think it's headed on the right trajectory.

DEAN BECKER: All right. One other thing, in late April, you had a big town hall, I don't know what you would call it exactly, the Make It Right event, wherein people that were on probation, parole, whatever, behind in fees, et cetera, could negotiate their situation. Tell us a little bit about that, please.

KIM OGG: In short, it's a ticket amnesty program. We were in Precinct One and Six, which is Houston's downtown area, Heights, Acres Homes, and then over into the east end, for Precinct Six, and this was an opportunity for people charged with traffic ticket level offenses, not the traffic offenses themselves, but, oh, things like public intoxication, minor in possession of alcohol, truancy, criminal mischief under fifty dollars, hot checks. It was an opportunity for people with outstanding warrants in those areas to come in and clear them up by going to a class provided right there at Lakewood Church.

We've been doing these around the county, and we're going to do more later in the year, because it offers people the opportunity to come in and take care of their business. You know, when a ticket goes to warrant, you can be arrested at any time. People know this, and it causes them sometimes to unnecessarily flee from the police, endangering everybody.


KIM OGG: It causes people to be afraid to come to court. It causes people to lose their jobs, if and when they do get arrested on warrants for simple little tickets, that they failed to take care of. So we understand that that's going to happen in people's lives, and we want them to have a second chance. I will say, you do need to come in and take care of it though, because if you don't take advantage of these special programs, then it will be business as usual. People will go to jail, and that would be a shame for such minor infractions.

DEAN BECKER: Exactly right. Now, one last question I have for you, Kim. There's this big hoopla, it's making national news, it's in the Washington Post, it was in the New York Times, it's in our Houston Chronicle, it's something that needs attention, that is the bail bond situation here in Houston, and heck in Texas and around the country, for that matter, but it's got a specific focus here. Talk about that, please.

KIM OGG: Well, the bail system has historically been a problem in Houston, Texas, and we've been sued through the decades by different plaintiffs for basically the same thing, for overcrowded jails caused by Harris County's insistence, through their, through the judiciary, that people be held on cash bails only. And over the years, personal recognizance bonds have been used less and less. This has resulted in basically pauper's prisons, where people who are too poor to bond out, even though they haven't been convicted of anything, sit in jail.

And this causes them to plead guilty because they have to get out to take care of kids, go back to work, get their cars out of impoundment, et cetera. It's a bad situation. And it violates our lawyers' in basically ethical rules, which is, we're not supposed to be accepting pleas from people on cases, pleas of guilt, unless the person's willing to swear under oath that they're really guilty. Well, we have people swearing they're really guilty just to get out of jail, and that's a problem.

And, conversely, we have very dangerous people charged with murder, rape, robbery, who can make pretty high bonds, at a ten percent rate on a surety bond, and they get out of jail while awaiting trial, and this endangers the public, or it can, and so we're trying to get people detained, or released, based on their risk to the community, not the amount of money they've got in their bank accounts. And so, this is the subject of legislation, and of a recent lawsuit that the plaintiffs won, and the plaintiffs are basically poor people being represented by activists and a local law firm here, Sussman and Godfrey. They've done some really good work, and we welcomed the judge's ruling. I filed an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit because we want to use that very expensive, very punitive, secure jail space that our Harris County Jail is, for dangerous people, not for poor people.

DEAN BECKER: Oh, exactly right. Well friends, you've heard some very positive thoughts from the district attorney of Harris County, Houston, Texas, Miss Kim Ogg, and I want to thank you once again just for your courage, your commitment, to making these changes, so necessary here in our county. Any closing thoughts, Kim?

KIM OGG: Just that I'm so grateful to your audience. I appreciate their vote, I appreciate their support. I appreciate their prayers. This is a big job, and it's not one that any of us take lightly. We can see that the district attorney through our recent actions has the power to bring important change and reform to our justice system. I know I have that solemn duty. I take my obligation and commitment seriously, and I just want your audience to know I'm not going to let you down.

DEAN BECKER: All right, and Kim, can I ask a favor?

KIM OGG: Of course.

DEAN BECKER: All right. When you --

KIM OGG: Unless it's a get out of free jail card, in which case, you'd better call your defense lawyer.


KIM OGG: Not your prosecutor.

DEAN BECKER: I may have a situation in the next year or two to negotiate, but, no, the question, when you gave your speech there at the criminal courthouse, you know, about the MMDP, I walked up to you, shook your hand, and you tell me if I'm right, you said Dean, you were the trailblazer, you made this day possible. Is that right?

KIM OGG: I think you were a big part of it, Dean, you represent law enforcement, you represent the community, you've been accused and been through our criminal justice system, and I think that you've had the opportunity in your 68 years, now that I know how old you are, to see this issue from many different perspectives. I found that invaluable, and your crusade to basically get law enforcement's focus on the issues and the things we can do to reduce the crime rate and prevent crime, I think for a forerunner to my ability to bring this change to Houston's drug policies, and to our leadership's perspective, and so yes, you were an inspiration to me, and I want to thank you personally.

DEAN BECKER: Ah, I'm smiling big here. I thank you, Kim. I'm going to let you go. Let's hope we can get together, you know, sometime this summer and talk again. All right?

KIM OGG: Sounds fantastic, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: And, just keep it up, my friend. Keep it up.

KIM OGG: There's -- you know what the biggest challenge is, Dean? There's only 24 hours in a day, and it turns out we really do need to sleep. So, change is happening. Change is happening. Thank you, Dean.

DEAN BECKER: Thank you, Kim. Talk to you soon. Bye bye.

KIM OGG: You too. Bye bye.

DEAN BECKER: Sadly, the Texas legislature did not address this bail bond reform, but the federal government continues to insist, and starting next week, the bail bond system will be eliminated in Houston, people arrested for minor charges will go free on personal recognizance.

It's time to play Name That Drug By Its Side Effects! Loss of personal freedom, family and possessions, ineligible for government funding, education, licensing, housing, or employment, loss of aggressive mindset in a dangerous world, this drug's peaceful easy feeling may be habit forming. Time's up! The answer: doobie, jimmy, joint, reefer, spliff, jibber, jay, biffa, jazz, blunt, steege, greener, cracker, hogger, bone, carrot, maryjane, marijuana, cannabis sativa. Made by God. Prohibited by man.

Since April Twentieth, cities around the country have held marijuana marches. Houston was no different. This past weekend they held their Global Marijuana March.

GRETCHEN MAZZIOTTI: My name is Gretchen Mazziotti, and I am the chief executive officer of the American Medicinal Botanical Association. We are located in the TMC Innovation Complex, in the famous Texas Medical Center.

DEAN BECKER: Well, we're here at the Houston NORML gathering, Global Marijuana March I think it's called. What are some of the ways we could do it right, what type of information do you share?

GRETCHEN MAZZIOTTI: Well, the purpose of AMBA is to promote education and an understanding of what medical cannabinoids can offer patients, in the research arena and also under the prescribed care of a physician. And what we are, what our focus is, to provide that medicinal education to the greater public, to state departments of health, to public officials, so we are on all different levels of engagement. And also, our focus will be different for every group, but we will be the research source for the true information that is -- that's vetted, and as I stated, we are in medicinal cannabinoids.

So, this would not be for recreational use, which I think that there's a blurred line between those two.

DEAN BECKER: I would agree with the blurred part. Now, is there a website where folks can learn more?

GRETCHEN MAZZIOTTI: Yes, actually we're on facebook, and the facebook is @AMBABotanicals, and it's AMBA.

ELIAS JACKSON, PHD: I'm Doctor Elias Jackson, director of scientific public relations at Vyripharm Biopharmaceuticals. Vyripharm is a biotech firm here in Houston at the Texas Medical Center, and we're a precision based pharmaceutical biotech, and some of the studies that we look at are from two different points. One is testing, testing of the efficacy of medicinal cannabinoids, and two is actually precision targeting of medical cannabinoids. So, in the testing, making sure looking at the efficacy, and precision targeting allows us to actually visualize or image where the particular cannabinoid is being used by the body.

So now, you can then treat a person, depending on their genetics. So you can find out exactly which strain works for that individual. If there's a hereditary disease in a family, you can be able to see which strain actually is targeting the specific areas necessary to actually combat that disease. So now that family knows exactly what the dose that they need and actually which strain works better for them.

DEAN BECKER: Doctor, what you're saying flies boldly, directly, in the face of many of our legislators, both state and federal, who say there is not enough science, not enough information, to change our laws in regards to marijuana or medical cannabis, as it should more appropriately be described. Your thought in that regard, sir.

ELIAS JACKSON, PHD: Oh, we, there's a lot of research out there that shows that cannabinoids actually inhibit the activity of a lot of elements that's involved in aging, that's involved in inflammation, that's involved in even cancer development. Obviously, we need a lot more research though to actually nail it down. However, I think the research is there enough to warrant more research, and also open the door, to where patients with other debilitating diseases can now start looking at different forms of treatment.

In the case of cancer, you know, chemotherapy has been out there for a while, and it has been our best method of aiding and treating these patients. However if we can introduce a cannabinoid treatment, I'm sure we will find that those individuals will have a better quality of life. So once we start to show that, even more so, I think that lawmakers and also individuals who believe in only one method or inside the box, they will start to open up and understand that this is actually the next level of patient treatment, and also quality of life.

RAMONA HARDING: My name is Ramona Harding, and I'm a disabled Navy veteran, and cannabis is the best medicine for my PTSD. My therapist here gave me an assignment, to become a cannabis activist, so that's why I'm here, doing that.

DEAN BECKER: Our Texas legislature is giving seemingly serious consideration to a medical marijuana bill that would benefit veterans with PTSD and folks with many other maladies. It's a hope, isn't it, for us?

RAMONA HARDING: Yes sir. I was actually present and testified at the hearing on Tuesday night. I believe some 60 or so people testified, only one person, a pain doctor, who was really vested in this, testified against us. Seventy representatives signed on overnight, which to me is historic, considering the last two sessions I participated that never did happen. And what was it, eight of the ten committee members voted in favor of it. I do believe that's also historic, and the first time it's ever been actually voted out of committee this way is historic. So, we have hope. And we have almost half in favor of it right now.

I do believe our problem is going to get it to the Senate. We have way more people there against it, and both the governor and lieutenant governor are not in favor of this, so we do have -- people need to call their senators in particular, and then we all need to keep calling until it's done. We only have until the end of May to get this finished.

DEAN BECKER: Where might folks learn how to make those contacts?

RAMONA HARDING: WhoRepresentsMe.com, if you go to WhoRepresentsMe.com on the internet, and put in your address and zip code, it will tell you all your representatives. There are also a couple of good federal bills that are pending, and while we know both of our senators are not in favor, I still believe all citizens should call and tell them that this is what we want.

DEAN BECKER: Here to fill us in on the happenings, or lack thereof, in Austin this year, from the Marijuana Policy Project-Texas, I want to welcome Heather Fazio.


DEAN BECKER: What was put forward this year, what did we hope to accomplish?

HEATHER FAZIO: There were about a dozen cannabis related bills that were introduced, several of which really gained a lot of traction. House Bill 81, introduced by Chairman Jim Moody, would have reduced penalties for low level possession. That bill did make it out of committee, it was scheduled for a vote, but unfortunately, scheduled too late to make it in time for last night's midnight deadline.

Not only did the bill, which would establish a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state, pass out of committee with a vote of seven to two, which has never happened, it also earned an unprecedented number of co-authors, with 77 Texas Representatives signing on as co-authors of the bill, standing for patients and caregivers, standing with medical professionals, calling on the state of Texas to allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to access medical cannabis.

DEAN BECKER: You said 77 reps, that's a majority. It just didn't make it to the floor for a vote.

HEATHER FAZIO: And one of the opportunities that still exists is to amend another bill that relates to medicine in one way or another, or the healthcare field, or criminal justice. That way, it's a germane bill, we can add an amendment to it to add our language from the bills that are no longer moving, with regard to medical cannabis, and reducing penalties for low level possession.

DEAN BECKER: Well folks, there you have it, from Heather Fazio, the Texas political director of the Marijuana Policy Project. Their website, MPP.org.

Again I remind you, because of prohibition you don't know what's in that bag. Please be careful.