By Jacob Sullum
The new law changes possession of up to an ounce of marijuana from a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail, to a Class B misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of 45 days. More important, the Chronicle reports, people caught with small amounts of marijuana or other drugs will be subject to "presumptive probation," meaning "they will get probation unless judges can offer a compelling reason why they should go to prison."
Low-level dealing—involving less than four grams of cocaine, two grams of heroin or methamphetamine, or 10 doses of other drugs—also has been downgraded, from a Class C felony (which triggers a prison sentence of five to 10 years) to a Class D felony (which carries a sentence of one to five years).
"Although crime rates have remained steady or dropped," the Chronicle notes, "Kentucky's prison population has increased fourfold in the past two decades, from 5,000 in 1990 to more than 20,000 now. Drug offenders account for 25% of the prison population, but 38% of inmates admitted since 2000."