Travis County trades criminal marijuana records for classes
Travis County has unanimously voted to allow low-level marijuana offenders to take a class and avoid a criminal record.
Austin-area residents possessing two ounces or less of marijuana would receive a court summons for Justice of the Peace Nicholas Chu’s court, where they will be able to signal their intent to take a four hour, $45 class within 60 days.
Upon proof of completion, the district attorney’s office will drop the charges, though none will be formally filed in order to avoid an arrest record, which would prevent the charge from showing up on a background check. A fee of $10 would be assessed for those who reschedule their class, and three classes will be held each month, though more could be added.
Those with higher pending charges would not be eligible to take the class.
“I think we can all put on our Santa hats and take people off the naughty list today,” stated Commissioner Gerald Daugherty while discussing the matter during commissioners court. “I just think, possession of marijuana in small amounts is legal in I don’t know how many states now. But yet we had a practice that was marking people for life, particularly if you didn’t have the money to go through an expunction process, and begin to label them as criminals when what they’re doing is not illegal in many places in this country.”
The county expects about 540 participants for fiscal year 2018.
It was unclear at the time of the vote how much money would be saved, though commissioners asked for a study to be done concerning those savings, as well as the demographics of those who are under the program.
“Because programs that are designed to be public-friendly, we want to make sure that they’re equitably used to make sure that all parts of the community will benefit from this as opposed to some parts,” added Daugherty.
The number one cited cost saving measure was keeping people out of the jail system.
Travis County joins both Harris and El Paso counties in enacting programs which keep low level marijuana offenders from having a criminal record.