El Paso County, Texas commissioners have unanimously approved a measure that allows first-time cannabis offenders to avoid jail time or criminal charges, opting instead for eight hours community service and a $100 fine, KFOX14 reports. The new rules will apply to individuals caught with 4 ounces of cannabis or less.
Cases only dealing with possession charges are eligible for the First Chance Program and those charged with possession plus any other charge will not be eligible.
According to El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza, offenders can decline the program and will be arrested – same goes for individuals who fail to complete the program within 60 days. Esparza said his office handles between 2,600 and 2,700 cases per year; most of which are for “less than a quarter ounce.”
“Of those 2,600 or 2,700 offenders, about 700 of those are first offenders. People who really have never been touched by the criminal justice system,” he said in the report. “Most of them are 25 years or younger. I think the smart thing, for both the offender and the criminal justice system, is to give them an opportunity to be held accountable without having to arrest or charge them.”
Esparza indicated the program would cost about $60,000 to $70,000 for one employee to oversee the program but will save money on law enforcement and court resources.