Some first-time marijuana offenders might find the penalties for getting caught with the illegal drug reduced because of a program that has been approved by El Paso Commissioner’s Court.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza said the First Chance Program will let people with no prior criminal record who are solely caught with marijuana do eight hours of community service and pay a fine instead of getting arrested and facing criminal charges.

Esparza said if you qualify for the program, you are still going to be held accountable, but you’ll also have an opportunity to have another chance. El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said the program is a chance for participants to think about their future. Wiles said it will "provide an educational opportunity to first time offenders with the intent to prevent their future use of illegal drugs."

The program will eliminate minor drug convictions that could pose problems for someone looking to pursue certain types of employment or even higher education opportunities.

The program must be agreed to during the initial interaction with a law enforcement officials after they review the criminal record of the person in question. If you agree to the program, you five business days to report to the CJC, 60 days to complete the program and pay a $100 fine.

When you have successfully completed the 90-day program trial, Esparza said your case will be reviewed. In Texas, having less than 2 oz. of marijuana is a class B misdemeanor punishable by 180 days in jail or a $2,000 fine.

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