Maricopa County, AZ: Diversion

County Attorney Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County, Arizona and TASC, Inc. operate a diversion program that charges hundreds of dollars in fees to people accused of possessing small amounts of marijuana. They do this by threatening jail time, six-figure fines, and a felony conviction if the participant does not pay. This program traps poor people in cycles of debt, and funds the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO) and TASC on the backs of low-level marijuana offenders.

Arizona is the only state in the country where any amount of marijuana, no matter how small, can draw a felony possession charge. Possession of marijuana is the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s most commonly prosecuted offense. Those arrested for possession are given the choice between entering the diversion program operated by TASC or being prosecuted for a felony.

The diversion program is completely funded by fees charged to participants, and forces these people to pay approximately $1,000 for the program itself. Participants must pay an additional $15-51 per week for random drug and alcohol screenings, which may be required as often as three times a week. Of these fees, $650 goes toward the budget of Maricopa County Attorney’s Office (MCAO).Participants unable to afford their fees are treated differently by TASC and MCAO than their wealthy counterparts. We filed suit to challenge the way this unconstitutional program preys on the poor.