The El Paso, Texas City Council has approved a “cite and release” policy for cannabis possession, KVIA reports. The policy applies to Class A and Class B misdemeanors, including the possession of less than two ounces.
The relaxed policy comes nearly three years after city lawmakers approved the so-called “First Chance” program which allows first-time cannabis offenders to avoid jail time or criminal charges, opting instead for eight hours of community service and a $100 fine. According to KVIA, the First Chance program has a 75 percent completion rate and more than 480 first-time offenders have avoided criminal records.
El Paso County Court Judge Ruben Morales said the two policies will work together to keep low-level offenders out of jail and benefit law enforcement who will no longer have to book and process offenders for low-level cannabis possession.
District Attorney Jaime Esparza has supported the First Chance program but said in the report that he was not convinced about the Cite and Release plan. Esparza was the only DA in the state’s 10 most populous counties that indicated he would continue prosecuting low-level cannabis crimes in the wake of the state’s legalization of hemp last summer. Other county prosecutors signaled that they would not prosecute such crimes as the state did not have the capability to test for THC content to differentiate legal hemp from THC-rich, illegal cannabis.
The measure passed the city council 7-0 with one abstention. The relaxed enforcement program will take effect in September.