The state of Georgia has, as of July 1, rather inexplicably decided that weed smokers are dangerous criminals, a move that seems to be directly contradictory to the way the rest of the country and modern world is headed.

According to new legislation set forth by DeKalb County and the state of Georgia, anyone in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana will now be subject to arrest, instead of being processed through DeKalb County Recorder’s Court.

Information from the United States Sentencing Commission from January 2015 states that the United States currently has 210,567 incarcerated citizens, the largest number of any country on the planet. Additionally, 51 percent of those incarcerated citizens are in prison for drug related instances, of which 10.4 percent are instances related specifically to marijuana.

This move by the State of Georgia baffles me. In many states across the country marijuana has become legal or decriminalized. This recent change in Georgia’s law is a major step backward in comparison to where the majority of other states, and the rest of the nation as a whole, stand on the issue of marijuana legalization. This is especially the case considering the Department of Justice’s recent decision to release 6,000 prisoners who were arrested for drug related reasons.

Does someone in possession of less than one ounce of marijuana (which is likely only enough for recreational use) deserve to be put in jail? Currently, the punishment for possession of less than one ounce of marijuana in the State of Georgia can be as extreme as up to one year in prison.

If the State of Georgia wants to fine someone and confiscate their illicit substance, that is their prerogative. It would still be a measure that I would deem too harsh, but at least it wouldn’t be as intensely detrimental to society as the procedures newly in place. But to put someone in jail for a year and to give them a criminal record over something like this? In my view, that is completely ridiculous.

First of all, punishing somebody so severely for such a petty crime is a tragic way to hurt their future. It means that these people will lose any occupation that they have at the time of their arrest. The fact that arrest rates for marijuana abuse is significantly higher for lower income and minority young people further emphasizes this point. The country should be trying to find ways to increase opportunities for Americans of this demographic, not smash their opportunities to shreds for getting high.

Most recent statistics (2010)regarding marijuana arrests, in relation to race, indicate that slightly less than 200 in every 100,000 white persons were arrested for marijuana possession, while more than 700 in every 100,000 black persons were arrested. This is especially striking considering the same survey found that usage between both races was almost the same.

What’s more, even if the state of Georgia were to somehow deem this response reasonable ethically, economically it makes no sense. Taxpayers’ money will be wasted because of these new measures, which is more criminal than the act of smoking marijuana itself. The price of putting someone in jail for a year almost definitely outweighs the benefits of removing from society someone who decides to get high.

To put this into perspective, the average price of incarcerating a citizen for a year is about $30,620. That’s more than many families in our country make in a year. One in four American families right now are currently living on less than $25,000 a year.

We are already a nation with too many incarcerated citizens and that spends too much money arresting these citizens. Moves like these are what cause spending on our prisons and deficits in our budgets to be too high. We are a country with an astronomical amount of debt right now. Scrapping DeKalb’s new policy and others like it is the most obvious way we can cut unnecessary spending and, not to mention, ensure people aren’t unfairly arrested. Spending on public necessities like education and health care should take precedent over arresting someone for marijuana possession.

And apart from the obscene and unnecessary costs this will cause, there has to be a better place to delegate our manual resources. Surely the Georgia judicial system, public defendants and local police officers have more important crimes to deal with than recreational marijuana use. DeKalb County has recently been dealing with embedded corruption issues, including the conviction of its former CEO Burrell Ellis on charges of theft by extortion, bribery and perjury only a week after the new marijuana policy had been passed. It seems like those serving as public officials in DeKalb County are more criminal than those they are trying to lock up.

The obvious solution to the marijuana problem is legalization, but I’m not naïve enough, given the State’s current position, to believe that move is feasible in the near future. However, there at least needs to be some sort of decriminalization measure for carrying the drug. If the state wants to fine perpetrators for possession, even though I disagree with that, then fair enough. However, they must not put people in jail who don’t deserve it and waste valuable taxpayers’ money and the time and labor of public workers in the process.

Zack Ashley is a College freshman from New York City, New York. 

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