Factual data, as opposed to anecdotal reports, tend to paint a more accurate depiction of a situation. It's unfortunate that media stories about decriminalizing marijuana tend to lack the former ("Assembly moves to decriminalize marijuana," April 5).
I've been following this story for the past few months and have yet to see any data to support the premise that prisons are bursting with low-level drug offenders and cost taxpayers millions by relegating countless harmless, well-meaning marijuana users to a life of unemployment.
Perhaps that is because it's rare for anyone, particularly first-time offenders, to be sent to prison for merely possessing marijuana. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, of all drug defendants sentenced in federal court for marijuana offenses in fiscal year 2008 — before decriminalization and legalization were in full swing — only 1.6 percent were sentenced for simple possession.
Most drug convictions are for violent offenders or for trafficking, not simple possession. The majority of non-violent, first-time offenders are given options for medical treatment through the drug courts, a successful system that should have a bigger voice in this debate.
I urge Gov. Martin O'Malley not to support decriminalization. Instead, let's support the drug courts that help people struggling with substance abuse and focus on prosecuting those who create disorder in our communities.
Jim Smith, Lutherville-
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