Issues in Focus: “Marijuana: The Overlooked Outcomes”

According to the Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy group for criminal justice reform, the United States currently holds the largest incarceration rate of any country in the world with 2.2 million people in prison. Of those 2.2 million people, 55 percent of those federal prisoners are placed in prison for non-violent drug offenses. This significant number of non-violent prisoners has led to a debate on reducing the penalties for the use of marijuana which is the largest drug leading to arrests. One side of the spectrum of the debate supports the complete decriminalization of marijuana to assuage the high incarceration rates and the effects that follow, including high tax costs spent on non-violent prisoners. The other side of the debate supports the criminalization system in place now as the negative views around drug-use outweigh any potential changes. However, between these two sides, a common ground can be found.

Many states and major cities have proposed and even passed legislation that lessens the penalty on possession of small-amounts of marijuana from a felony to a misdemeanor. Former presidential candidate and former Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation last year that reduced first offense marijuana possession charges from a felony to a misdemeanor and lessened the punishment from six months in prison and a $500 fine to a maximum of 15 days in prison and a $300 fine.  In 2014, the legislature in California passed a law that possession of marijuana under an ounce carries a penalty of only a $100 fine. Across the nation, many states are moving towards reducing penalties for marijuana.

Georgia has yet to make such a move compared to states like California, but the need to do so is apparent. Currently in Georgia, criminal justice statistics are quite alarming. Georgia holds the 9th highest state incarceration rate in the country, and sits well above the national average. The state also has the highest number of people on probation with 6,161 probationers per every 100,000 people. That’s 321% above the national average.

Georgia’s marijuana possession laws lead directly to these high rates as first offense marijuana charges often get the penalty of conditional discharge which means a judge can use discretion to allow an offender to carry out a probation term to avoid prison. While this is better than going to prison, it plays a large role in creating the roughly 616,000 probationers in which the state spends at least $1.33 per probationer/per supervising. At the lowest estimate, that’s almost $300,000,000 a year on probation supervision costs.

We can help reduce the high costs of probation supervision and the overall cost of our justice system by reducing the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana from conditional discharge or prison time to a ticketed misdemeanor. Similar to a traffic ticket, these marijuana possession tickets can save more money and create more income for the state without damaging the reputation, criminal records, and lives of the offenders.













“NIC State Statistics – Georgia.” NIC State Statistics – Georgia. National Institute of Corrections. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.

“The Sentencing Project News – Incarceration.” The Sentencing Project News – Incarceration. The Sentencing Project. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.

Carson, E. Ann. Prisoners In 2014. Washington, DC: US Dept of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Sept. 2015, NCJ248955, p. 16 (state) and p. 17 (federal). – See more at:

Kevin Litten, | The Times-Picayune. “Bobby Jindal Signs Marijuana Bills That Reform Criminal Penalties, Medical Marijuana Access.” NOLA. 29 July 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.

“Guide to California’s Marijuana Laws.” Guide to California’s Marijuana Laws. California NORML. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.

“NIC State Statistics – Georgia.” NIC State Statistics – Georgia. National Institute of Corrections. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.

“Marijuana Possession Charges in Georgia.” Georgia Criminal Defense Lawyers. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2016. <>.