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Drug possession charges filling jails and prisons

A report that looked at drug charges in New York, Texas, Florida and Louisiana is disturbing and points to the need for considering decriminalization of drug possession. It was released on Oct. 12 by the Human Rights Commission and the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to the report, more than 1.25 million people are arrested each year for minor drug offenses. This means that a person is arrested in the nation every 25 seconds for alleged drug offenses. Almost 50 percent of the arrests are for possession of marijuana alone. While the criminal justice system and the police have taken an enforcement strategy for drug possession crimes, the rates of drug use have not declined despite the increased enforcement.

Hundreds of people in the U.S. die in jail every year, including a number that are being held on drug possession charges alone. In one case, a person who was a stroke victim died in jail while being held on a charge of possessing marijuana that he had smoked in his own home. He couldn't afford to post the $100 bail in his case. There is a problem at all levels, from police focusing on drug possession charges because of arrest quotas to prosecutors who overcharge people in an effort to secure convictions through pleas.

People who are facing misdemeanor or felony drug crimes may end up dealing with collateral consequences for the rest of their lives if they are convicted. Convictions may lead to incarceration, fines or probationary sentences. After they have completed their sentence, they may still have problems with finding housing, getting a job, pursuing higher education and obtaining credit. A criminal defense attorney may work to help a client obtain a favorable plea to a non-drug offense or to try to get the charges dismissed.

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