The Linn County Attorney’s Office has released a review of the marijuana diversion program that it launched on Jan. 1, 2021. The program was designed for first-time offenders found in possession of a user-quantity amount of marijuana. Conviction for a marijuana offense may have serious and lasting consequences for first-time offenders’ ability to obtain housing and employment, access higher education, as well as other negative short and long-term financial consequences. The abuse of marijuana also presents potential dangers. The marijuana diversion program was created to address and balance these concerns.
“When we announced the program in December 2020, we said our office would conduct a complete review of the program’s effectiveness and modify the program if the review showed that changes are needed. It was important to me that we kept that commitment to review the program and share the results with the public,” Linn County Attorney Nick Maybanks said. “Given that many people are still waiting the required six-month period to complete the program, the statistics actually show the program has been quite successful,” Maybanks said, “but we’re always looking for ways to increase the success rate, which may include reasonable adjustments to the program.”
In 2021, the first year of Linn County’s marijuana diversion program, 114 first-time offenders entered the program. There has been 78 participants who completed the program and 28 of them (36 percent) completed the program successfully. Successful completion requires a sixth-month period without reoffending so some participants are still in the program. Successful participants were required to complete a treatment and community service component as well as other diversion program requirements. Those who completed the diversion program successfully had their case dismissed and the Linn County Attorney’s Office recommend expungement of the arrest and charge from the participant’s record. A chart showing a detailed breakdown of participants and outcomes is available on Linn County’s website.
The Linn County Attorney’s Office plans on tracking whether participants offend again within 6 months of completion of the program as another measure of the program’s effectiveness.
“We don’t want repeat offenders. We want to divert people from the criminal justice system,” Maybanks said.
The two primary reasons that participants did not complete the program were failure to get a substance abuse evaluation and follow through with recommendations and failure to complete the required 10 hours of community service.
“Ensuring that we identify any individuals that are struggling with addiction and getting them help is important to us,” said Maybanks. “I’ve always believed that community service provides a benefit not only to the person charged but obviously, to the community.”
The County Attorney’s Office will review the program again once more participants have a chance to complete the six-month deferment period with a goal of a 50 percent success rate.
“We have to acknowledge that there will be some folks that just won’t be able to complete the program,” conceded Maybanks.
If this program continues to demonstrate success in diverting participants from the criminal justice system without substantial repeat offenses, Maybanks would like to explore future programs for other controlled substance offenders and low-level financial crimes, focused on rehabilitation and restitution before incarceration. The Linn County Attorney’s Office is also researching frameworks for a Mental Health Court as a future consideration.
The complete legal memo by the Linn County Attorney’s Office, which outlines the rationale and goals of the program, eligibility guidelines, and requirements for successful completion, is available on the Linn County website.