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Harris County DA Expands Diversion Program For First-Time Marijuana Offenders

Starting Jan. 1, law enforcement officers across Harris County will have a new mandate on how to deal with people caught with low amounts of marijuana.


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DA Anderson
Florian Martin
Harris County DA Devon Anderson announces the expansion of the First Chance program.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson introduced the First Chance Intervention Program in October 2014.

Houston police officers and Harris County Sheriff's Office deputies are required to offer first time offenders – found in possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana – a chance to participate in the program.

Effective Jan. 1, Anderson is mandating all law enforcement agencies in the county to offer it.

Until now, only 22 percent of eligible offenders were offered the program before they were arrested, because other police departments did not have to participate.

"If it's offered at the pre-arrest stage, it frees up space in jail," Anderson said. "It minimizes the administrative burdens that officers face when they file charges; it reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings; and of course it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record."

Data provided by the district attorney's office show more than 90 percent of those who took advantage of the program did not re-offend – a much better recidivism rate than for those who were charged.

"And after I saw these, I said, hey, let's look at what the recidivism rate would be for a second offender or a third offender," Anderson said. "So we're going to look at that."

She said she is also looking into expanding the program for other misdemeanor crimes, like shoplifting.

Participants have to either do community service or take classes for up to 90 days.