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Marijuana users see little time in local jail By Tyler Riggs
Convicted marijuana users in Cache County are seeing little time, if any, in jail, and rarely go to prison unless their use of marijuana leads them to harder drugs.
However, local statistics conflict with a report released today by the Washington, D.C.-based Justice Policy Institute, which says the United States today is spending 300 times more on drug control than it did 35 years ago and, partially as a result, there are more people serving time in the U.S. for marijuana-related charges than the total inmate population of eight European Union countries.
The purpose of the report, co-author Jason Ziedenberg wrote, was to detail that despite about $20 billion in annual drug control spending, people are still using marijuana and getting arrested.
"Despite billions in new spending and hundreds of thousands of new arrests, marijuana use seems to be unaffected by the huge criminal justice response to this drug," Ziedenberg said.
At the Cache County Jail on Wednesday, 19 of the 317 inmates were serving time for a marijuana-related charge, five of whom had additional drug charges involving mushrooms, heroin or cocaine. Likewise, there were 19 inmates serving time exclusively on methamphetamine charges, according to statistics provided by Cache County Jail Capt. Kim Cheshire.
Locally, the money spent on drug prevention and finding marijuana users is important because of how marijuana is used as a "gateway drug," Logan Police Sgt. Bret Randall said.
"Marijuana, although it's prevalent, generally is a gateway drug and people will have it on top of the meth and on top of the heroin," Randall said. "But in our experience, most people that commit marijuana offenses do not do jail time."
In more cases, Randall said, unless an individual is charged with possessing or using other illegal drugs, they won't spend much time in the county jail and will rarely go to prison.
"I do not know of any marijuana arrest we've made where they've gone to prison," he said. "The prison's full and there's no room for people who smoke marijuana."
The Justice Policy Institute's study claims that 48 percent of all Utah arrests in 2003 involved marijuana. Those numbers don't correspond with Cache numbers; in 2003, the Cache-Rich Drug Task Force made 71 marijuana-related arrests. There were 192 total arrests made in 2003 by the CRDTF, and hundreds of additional arrests that weren't related to drugs.
The Justice Policy Institute is a non-profit research organization with a goal of ending society's reliance on incarceration. A full version of the marijuana report can be found on its Web site, www.justicepolicy.org.