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ACLU report finds many drug users serve long sentences

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, drug laws in Texas and other states are doing little to discourage drug use. In fact, such use has remained steady for decades despite strict laws on drug use and possession. The ACLU found that in 2015, four people were detained for drug possession for every one person taken into custody for distribution, and nearly 50 percent of those cases dealt with marijuana. The ACLU has produced a report arguing that people are serving long sentences for minor drug crimes. The organization favors decriminalization, education and harm reduction over using law enforcement resources to find and jail drug users.

The report identified a number of problems within the system including aggressive prosecution. Drug users faced with harsh charges may plea bargain to avoid those charges yet still receive long sentences.

Other issues are financial in nature. People may be unable to pay bail and may linger in jail awaiting trial. The ACLU found 86 people in a jail in Norfolk, Virginia, awaiting trial on marijuana charges at a cost, if extrapolated, of $1.84 million annually. However, the cost is not just to cities. Those unable to pay bail may lose their jobs and be unable to pay additional court fees as well. A felony conviction may mean losing financial aid for education and being denied housing and jobs.

The consequences of a conviction for even minor drug-related crimes can be devastating and far-reaching. Therefore, a person facing such charges may want to work with an attorney. If possible, an attorney might strive to get the charges dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor. The case may become more complicated if a person is facing charges for drug manufacturing or drug delivery. An attorney might be able to advise on potential strategies if the person charged wishes to plead not guilty and go to trial.

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