Texas has not joined states like California, Washington and Colorado in legalizing marijuana for recreational use, but that has not prevented lawmakers in parts of the Lone Star State from implementing diversion programs that allow those found to be in possession of small quantities of the drug to avoid criminal penalties. Supporters of these programs say that they prevent drug users who pose no threat to the community being stigmatized with criminal records.
One such diversion program was approved by a unanimous vote of the Travis County Commissioners Court on Dec. 19, and its backers say that letting minor drug offenders avoid the courts will allow prosecutors and police officers in the county to devote their energies to efforts that better serve the general public. Under Texas state law, being caught with two ounces of marijuana or less is considered a Class B misdemeanor and can result in a fine of up to $2,000 and up to 180 days in jail. The Travis County District Attorney’s Office deals with about 3,000 such cases each year.
Reports indicate that Travis County will begin offering the marijuana classes in January 2018 with participants paying $45 to attend. During the classes, representatives from Travis County Counseling and Education Services will explain how marijuana can impair memory and intelligence, how using the drug increases the chances of being involved in an automobile accident and the dangers of becoming addicted.
Experienced criminal defense attorneys may mention diversion programs such as the one recently approved by Travis County lawmakers when discussing minor drug charges with prosecutors. Attorneys could also point out that prosecuting these cases uses resources that could be better deployed elsewhere and could make it difficult for minor drug offenders to find gainful employment.
Source: KXAN NBC Austin, “Low-level marijuana offenders can now avoid charges with Travis County class”, Jacqulyn Powell, Dec. 20, 2017