Texas’ most populous county has moved to institute a form of marijuana decriminalization.

Devon Anderson, the District Attorney of Harris County, which has more than 4 million residents, first introduced the First Chance Intervention Program in October 2014 in cooperation with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department and the Harris Police Department. Deputies and officers must offer first-time offenders arrested for possession of no more than two ounces of cannabis the opportunity to take part in the program.

Effective January 1st, 2016, all law enforcement agencies in the county will be required to offer the program, which allows first-time offenders to avoid jail time and a criminal record by doing either eight hours of community service or completing an eight-hour class.

Only 22 percent of offenders arrested since October 2014 have been given the chance to participate in the program because not all departments were initially required to participate.

“If it’s offered at the pre-arrest stage, it frees up space in jail,” said Anderson. “It minimizes the administrative burdens that officers face when they file charges; it reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings; and of course it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record.”

Data from the D.A.’s office shows a recidivism rate of under 10 percent for those who participated in the program — much less than for those who were convicted of a criminal offense.

Photo Credit: Adam Baker

 

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