First-time marijuana offenders in El Paso County may be able to avoid jail time and criminal records by participating in a newly unveiled program. Called the First Chance Program, it was unanimously approved by the commissioners of the county on Oct. 30.

Under the provisions of the new program, first-time offenders who are caught with less than 4 ounces of marijuana may avoid jail time and a record by paying fines of $100 and performing eight hours of community service. The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office reports between 2,600 and 2,700 marijuana possession cases every year, a majority of which involve the possession of less than a quarter-ounce of marijuana.

The program may offer a way for first-time offenders to avoid being arrested. If they comply with the fines and community service requirements, they may also avoid having criminal records. People who turn down the program will be charged and arrested. Offenders who fail to complete the program within 60 days will also be arrested.

While the program is encouraging for some defendants, many people are charged with felony possession of marijuana. Texas prosecutes possession of marijuana cases harshly despite the fact that marijuana has been legalized in many other states. People who are facing possession of marijuana charges might want to consult with attorneys who are experienced at defending people against drug possession allegations. The lawyers may be able to identify constitutional problems with how their clients were stopped by the police or how the searches and seizures occurred. They may also be able to negotiate favorable plea agreements.