New data revealed on Thursday shows that Vermont state government spends more than $700,000 annually to pursue Vermonters for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
Based on the new findings, state Rep. Jason Lorber (D-Burlington) announced plans Thursday to introduce a bill that would decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of cannabis.
“We should stop wasting $700,000 a year on a failed policy,” Rep. Lorber said. “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.
|Photo: Jason P. Lorber|
|Rep. Jason Lorber: “We should stop wasting $700,000 a year on a failed policy. It’s time for a smarter approach. That means decriminalization of an ounce or less of marijuana.”|
”Possession of small amounts of marijuana does not fall into this category,” Sand said. “Converting misdemeanor marijuana crimes into civil violations is an appropriate and laudatory legislative endeavor.”
Thursday’s announcement follows the release of a memo written for Rep. Lorber by the nonpartisan Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office (JFO).
The report detailed costs totaling $716,021, for pursuing Vermonters for misdemeanor possession of marijuana, broken into these categories:
• Police: $45,257
• State’s Attorneys $10,429
• Defender General $19,768
• Court Diversion $169,500
• Judiciary $105,344
• Corrections $365,725
This boondoggle involves 801 arrests, 76 Vermonters serving time behind bars, and 270 on field supervision.
JFO estimates that the true costs could be as much as 20 percent more or less than the $716,021 figure.
The study focused on cases in which possession of up to two ounces of marijuana was a stand-alone charge.
Strong Support for Decrim In Vermont and Nationally
Marijuana has been decriminalized in 13 states, including Vermont’s neighbors New York, Maine, and Massachusetts.
A 2009 Mason-Dixon poll of registered voters in Vermont showed more than 2-to-1 support for marijuana decriminalization, with 63 percent in support, 27 percent opposed, and 10 percent undecided.
“Decriminalization is different from legalization,” Lorber said. “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,” Lorber said. “It would be a ticket, not jail time.”
In an August 2010 panel discussion, 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.