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Reconsidering Marijuana in Georgia

Governor Nathan Deal was pro-prison when elected in 2010, but according to the Wall Street Journal, he’s reconsidering in the face of rising costs to keep Georgia citizens incarcerated and the likelihood that a stint in prison will manufacture a better criminal.

With an estimated $1 billion in taxpayer funds going toward prison costs, there’s a new attitude that couples fiscal responsibility with common-sense morality. That’s a combination that may finally bust the traditional tough-on-crime stance of political conservatives. The WSJ says it’s led to a dramatic revamping of Georgia's criminal code. New rules enacted over the past two legislative sessions are steering nonviolent offenders away from prison, emphasizing rehabilitation over jail time, and lessening the penalties for many drug and property crimes.

As the WSJ reports, Georgia is the latest example of a Republican-led state drive to replace tough-on-crime dogma of the 1990s with a more forgiving and nuanced set of laws. Treatment instead of incarceration is slowly gaining traction, with drug courts emerging as a significant player in the mix. For fiscal conservatives, it’s a good financial choice – treatment for minor offenses, instead of jail, has been shown to reduce overall costs. For liberals, the war on drugs is already billed as a lost cause. They see it as more harmful than beneficial on human rights or moral grounds.

No one can predict with certainty whether or not all this will lead to decriminalization of cannabis in Georgia, or steps toward legal use for medical purposes. What it does show is a new attitude that has the capability of breaking through our state legislature’s traditional stance of treating marijuana on par with other, more dangerous drugs. If cannabis can be distinguished as a separate class of drug, more akin to alcohol than cocaine, advocates will have a way forward for their pro-marijuana agenda.

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