Marijuana Majority Chairman Tom Angell, formerly associated with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, issued cautious praise for the policy change.
"These proposals will allow some people charged with drug offenses to have opportunities to put their lives back together sooner and will save taxpayers some money that is now being wasted putting human beings in cages for no good reason," Angell said in a statement. "The real value of these proposals will be in the implementation, which drug policy reform advocates have good reason to be wary about. For example, despite a 2009 Justice Department memo urging U.S. attorneys not to go after marijuana businesses that are legal under state law, more state-legal medical marijuana providers were shuttered by federal actions during the first term of the Obama administration than were closed during George W. Bush's two terms."
The Obama administration still hasn't said how it will address the opening of recreational marijuana stores in Colorado and Washington state next year, he noted.
As of June, 47 percent of the more than 200,000 federal prisoners were locked up for drug charges, according to data from the Federal Bureau of Prisons. State inmate populations are larger – pushing the national incarcerated population above 1.5 million – and around 17 percent of state-level inmates were there for state drug charges in 2011, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.