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Philly Saves Millions of Dollars by Going Easy on Potheads Philadelphia Saves Millions by Decriminalizing Marijuana

Many of us know that criminalizing pot smokers is a waste of money. Now Philadelphia has the numbers to prove it.

Guess all those Town Hall twitterers asking Obama about legalizing marijuana were onto something. About a year ago, Philadelphia pretty much decriminalized possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana by giving offenders the option to enroll in a three-hour class that would expunge the offense from their records. The incident goes down as a summary offense, rather than a misdemeanor. Now, District Attorney Seth Williams estimates the city has saved $2 million over the past year.

Granted, $2 million is nothing compared to Philadelphia's $3.8 billion budget last year. But it's not peanuts, either. Before the more lenient law took effect, offenders (assuming they fought the charges) cost the city prosecutors, judges, lab tests, public defenders and in some cases jail time. Now, the offender just pays $200 for the class.

We've shed some light before on the 13 states (now 14, after Connecticut's new law passed) that are similarly going easy on pot smokers, but it's nice to see hard numbers on the benefits of this kind of legislation. It's especially relevant as half the population comes around to the idea of making marijuana legal, and after the war on drugs has been declared a total failure.

Williams seems to have his heart in the right place when it comes to the future of drug laws in general. "I can put someone in jail for 90 days because they possess crack. But if we don't get them the help they need for their addiction, when they get out of jail, they're just going to be a 90-day-older crack addict," Williams told the Philadelphia Daily News. "We have to treat drug addiction as a public-health problem, not just a criminal-justice problem."

photo (cc) by Flickr user m kasahara

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