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El Paso votes for first time marijuana offender program

El Paso County Courthouse
El Paso County Courthouse

A program to spare first time marijuana offenders from jail and a criminal record has been given the green light in El Paso.

El Paso County Commissioners voted to approve the measure today, and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has said it is in full support of the proposal.

Those who qualify would enter a diversion program and avoid any arrest or criminal charge. It’s a joint effort by the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement.

According to Colt DeMorris, the executive director of the El Paso chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the vote by county commissioners was unanimous. He added that it will only be for a misdemeanor charge of marijuana, two ounces or less, and those who are caught with marijuana in addition to another charge will not qualify.

“Once caught, the person will have five business days to report to the CJC Department (Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology) in the county, pay the administrative fee of $100 and do eight hours of community service within 60 days,” DeMorris says.

“The First Chance Program is a small step in doing the right thing for El Paso” DeMorris states. “I commend District Attorney Jaime Esparza, Sheriff Wiles of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office and Chief Allen of the El Paso Police Department for coming together and bringing about reform in anyway possible. We could do much better but, this step, is a step in the right direction.”

DeMorris added, “Our next task is to get the District Attorney to expand the program for patients. If a patient can prove they have cancer or a qualifying condition in another state, I believe that should be allowed too, as well as card holders from other states that show they qualify for a medical cannabis program in a state.”

The consensus by commissioners and law enforcement is that this will be a positive program which helps people while conserving resources and saving money.

Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018
Texas Marijuana Policy Advocacy Workshops — January 2018

Ashley Claster with CBS4 News obtained numerous quotes from commissioners concerning their stance on the issue.

“This program will provide an educational opportunity to first time offenders with the intent to prevent their future use of illegal drugs; it will eliminate minor drug convictions that could have long lasting negative effects on their ability to pursue certain types of employment and higher education opportunities,” said Sheriff Wiles in a statement. “Additionally, it will result in a savings to taxpayers by freeing up police officers and deputies to handle more important law enforcement duties, prevent unnecessary bookings into the county jail, and prevent a long and costly court process.”

“Regardless of whatever your opinions are on marijuana, the reality is high school students are trying marijuana at a rate higher than that of cigarettes,” El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez said.

“I think it’s wonderful. I think first time offenders shouldn’t be punished excessively which is going to screw up their lives,” said a neighbor who lives in West El Paso who did not want to give his name.

“I think that the resources of the police department and sheriff’s department can be better used chasing more criminal type of behavior,” said West El Paso resident George Sugawa said. “One of the advantages of being young is you get to make mistakes.”

“If they just learn from that one mistake and move on, and if they’re given that second opportunity, when it comes time for college, when it comes time for school,” Perez said.

Perez said it is a lot like the deferred adjudication program that’s offered to first time DWI offenders.

“Between the arrest step, and the booking step, and the jail step, then the court step, there’s a lot of taxpayer resources that are wasted,” Perez explained.

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Stephen Carter

Stephen Carter is a journalist and information technology specialist living in Waco, Texas. He has been working with the cannabis movement since 2009. He founded Texas Cannabis Report in 2013 to bring Texans accurate cannabis related news.

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