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Texas county offers minor drug offenders an alternative to court

Possessing two ounces or less of marijuana is still considered a Class B felony under Texas law, but that has not prevented some counties in the Lone Star State from putting diversion programs in place that allow individuals caught with small amounts of the drug to avoid criminal charges. The latest such program was approved unanimously by the Travis County Commissioners Court on Dec. 19. Under the program, which will go into effect in January 2018, offenders can avoid dealing with the criminal justice system by paying $45 to attend a four-hour class.

Court records reveal that about 3,000 minor marijuana possession cases are handled each year by the Travis County District Attorney's Office, and supporters of the recently approved diversion program say that it will serve the public by allowing law enforcement and prosecutors to concentrate on more serious criminal activity. In addition to avoiding fines of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail, those who attend the four-hour marijuana classes will not be saddled with criminal records that could make finding work more difficult.

The classes will be held by Travis County Counseling and Education Services and will cover some of the most recent science dealing with cannabis. Participants will learn how using marijuana affects the human brain and how driving under the influence of the drug greatly increases the chances of being involved in a motor vehicle accident. Instructors will also discuss how smoking or otherwise consuming marijuana sometimes leads to more serious drug use and addiction.

When their clients are facing minor drug charges, experienced criminal defense attorneys may point out the success of programs like the one recently approved in Travis County during plea negotiations. Prosecutors often view minor drug cases as a distraction, and they may be willing to show leniency even in situations where no diversion program is available.

Source: KXAN NBC Austin, Low-level marijuana offenders can now avoid charges with Travis County class, Jacqulyn Powell, Dec. 20, 2017

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