In October 2014, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson launched the First Chance Intervention Program to give first-time marijuana offenders a break. Instead of spending time in jail and picking up a drug charge, they could do community service or take an eight-hour class. At the time, Anderson said the new initiative was intended to help people avoid losing employment or housing because of a simple class B misdemeanor marijuana possession charge.
But of the 1,959 people who were offered the program since its start, 80 percent of them were offered First Chance after they had already been charged and booked into the jail, which in turn negates some of the central goals of the program: avoiding a criminal charge and jail time. And even though the charge would be dismissed if the person accepted the program, it still stays on his or her record for at least one year.