CONTACT: Rep. Jason Lorber, 802-863-9429 or firstname.lastname@example.org
New Data: Pursuit of Misdemeanor Marijuana Possession
Costs Vermont Over $700K Annually
Rep. Lorber Calls for Decriminalization
Burlington, VT – Dec. 9, 2010 – New data unveiled today shows that Vermont state government spends over $700,000 annually to pursue Vermonters for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Based on the new findings, Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) today announced plans to introduce a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.
“We should stop wasting $700,000 a year on a failed policy,” said Rep. Lorber. “It’s time for a smarter approach. That means decriminalization for an ounce or less of marijuana.”
“In a time of great fiscal strain, it is critical that we focus law enforcement resources on offenses that pose the greatest threats to public safety,” said Windsor County State’s Attorney, Robert Sand. “Possession of small amounts of marijuana does not fall into this category. Converting misdemeanor marijuana crimes into civil violations is an appropriate and laudatory legislative endeavor.”
Today’s announcement follows the release of a memo written for Rep. Lorber by the non-partisan Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office (JFO). The report detailed costs totaling $716,021, broken into categories of Police ($45,257), State’s Attorneys ($10,429), Defender General ($19,768), Court Diversion ($169,500), Judiciary ($105,344), and Corrections ($365,725). It involves 801 arrests, 76 Vermonters serving time behind bars, and 270 on field supervision. JFO estimates that the true costs could be 20% more or less than the $716,021 figure. The study focused on cases in which possession of up to 2 ounces of marijuana was a stand-alone charge.
Strong Support for Decriminalization in Vermont and Nationally
Marijuana has been decriminalized in 13 states, including New York, Maine, and Massachusetts. A 2009 Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters in Vermont showed over 2-to-1 support for marijuana decriminalization, with 63% in support, 27% opposed, and 10% undecided
“Decriminalization is different from legalization,” Lorber was quick to point out. “I am crafting a bill that would keep it illegal to sell or use marijuana, and not change the penalty for driving under the influence. This would simply change the penalty for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana to a civil, rather than criminal offense. It would be a ticket, not jail time.”
This news follows an August 2010 panel discussion in which Rep. Lorber and then-gubernatorial candidate Peter Shumlin called for decriminalization of possession of under an ounce of marijuana.
Rep. Lorber has served in the Vermont House of Representatives since 2005. He co-authored sweeping legislation called “Justice Reinvestment,” which reduces prison costs while improving safety by finding less costly and more effective alternatives to prison. In 2005, he authored a 42-page report “53 Voices on Corrections in Vermont” chronicling the stresses placed on the Department of Corrections by overcrowding.
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