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Tarrant County DA: Stay Sober For 3 Months And Get Your Marijuana Charge Dropped

Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson stands in front of a wall full fo framed diplomas, certificates and press clippings in her office in 2019.
Christopher Connelly
/
KERA News
Sharen Wilson has been Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney since 2019.

The Tarrant County District Attorney wants to make it easier people caught with a small amount of marijuana to get their charges dismissed. The idea, DA Sharen Wilson said Monday, is to encourage sobriety and rehabilitation.

Under the policy, people facing charges of possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana in Tarrant County will be able to get their case dismissed if they can provide results from three drug tests, each taken a month apart, that show no drugs in their system.

The policy has been in effect for over a year, but has not been widely used, so Wilson wants to highlight the option for people to avoid gaining a criminal record for a low-level offense.

Proof of three months of sobriety, Wilson said in a prepared statement, is evidence that an individual is “self-correcting,” and that not everyone charged with an offense that carries the potential for incarceration needs to go to jail.

“The most important thing to me is that a person who is using marijuana at a low level learns what it is to be sober, and that sobriety is the beginning of rehabilitation,” Wilson said. “And when we recognize that, we will have achieved one of the goals of the criminal justice system, which is rehabilitation.”

This is the second time in a month that Wilson has announced policy changes to drug cases filed in Tarrant County.

Two weeks ago, she launched a diversion program for people charged for the first time with drug possession. It gives them a chance to get their charges dropped and their records expunged if they take a class, pay a $300 fee and stay sober for six months. Since the 1970s, the Tarrant County DA’s office has offered a similar program to young people. Wilson’s program expands the option for people 25 and older.

Wilson said that program isalso a way to reduce the backlog of cases caused by the pandemic.

In 2019, possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana was the most-charged crime in Tarrant County, with 3,750 cases filed. That means the DA’s office handled more cases of the lowest-level drug offense in Texas than any other crime.

The number of low-level marijuana charges is significantly down from previous years, reflecting a change in Texas law that legalized hemp and hemp derivatives.

Hemp and marijuana are both products of the cannabis plant, but hemp has less tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than marijuana. The new law, passed by the legislature in 2019, left prosecutors and police scrambling to adjust to the new legal distinction between legal hemp and illegal marijuana, resulting in dropped cases and a more complicated and costly process of winning convictions in cases related to the drug.

Got a tip? Christopher Connelly is KERA's One Crisis Away Reporter, exploring life on the financial edge. Email Christopher at cconnelly@kera.org.You can follow Christopher on Twitter @hithisischris.

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