Recently, in this paper, the group SAM Maine (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) invited us to strategize how to address the social justice issues inherent in the criminalization of marijuana (“Maine Voices: Legalization of marijuana is not a smart approach for Maine,” June 7). We welcome the opportunity to talk with anyone about ways to reduce incarceration and ease our reliance on the criminal justice system.

The “war on drugs” approach has been a disaster, and the consequences have been harming our communities for decades. People are sent to jail for using marijuana, either directly or because of the inability to pay unwaivable fines. Those with offenses on their record have difficulty getting financial aid for school and face barriers to finding work.

Further, the criminalization of marijuana discriminates. In Maine, even though black people and white people use marijuana at similar rates, police are twice as likely to arrest a black person for possession.

Finally, the cost to taxpayers is enormous: In 2010, Maine spent nearly $9 million enforcing marijuana possession laws. That is $9 million that could be better spent elsewhere.

The war on drugs has had decades to prove itself; instead, it has done nothing but fill our criminal justice system with people who don’t belong there. Criminal sanctions cannot be the solution to all of society’s tough issues. It’s time to end our culture of punishment.

Alison Beyea

executive director, ACLU of Maine