Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is seeking to change the way the state deals with substance abuse by making it easier for some offenders to get treatment instead of a criminal record, says the Washington Post. Ehrlich, who last year became the nation’s first Republican governor to sign a medical marijuana bill, wants legislators to set guidelines for prosecutors who want to keep nonviolent drug offenders out of jail or off probation. Ehrlich hopes the approach, known as diversion, would be the first step in revamping the state’s stance on drug abuse. “Twenty-five years ago, this would be a lot more difficult to do,” he said. “But attitudes about the war on drugs are changing.”
The measure is winning bipartisan support in the General Assembly. Ehrlich’s support signals a growing willingness among Republicans — who once demanded stiff sentences for drug crimes — to adopt a more moderate approach. “What I am seeing is failure in what we are doing now. It is like throwing good money after bad because we are not getting good results,” said Maryland Sen. Nancy Jacobs. “If you are going to throw money at something to fix it, throw money at something that works. They have a much better success rate with treatment then they do with keeping people in jail.”
Some Republican lawmakers expressed concern. “My constituents want law and order,” said Sen. Richard F. Colburn who is seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest (R) in the March primary.
About one-fourth of the 23,000 inmates housed by the Maryland Department of Corrections and Public Safety last fall were incarcerated on drug charges. While drug treatment can cost $1,000 to $7,000 for each patient, it costs as much as $43,000 a year to keep someone imprisoned, says the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration.