UPDATED: 5:08 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County prosecutors announced major changes in how they prosecute low-level drug cases, including sending more nonviolent drug offenders to treatment, rather than prison.

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Beginning immediately misdemeanor cases for possession of under 30 grams of cannabis will be dismissed as long as the person caught is nonviolent and has fewer than three arrests or citations.

Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez says right now, Class 4 felony drug possession cases make up about one quarter of the county’s felony cases.

Additionally more than 40 people a day are arrested on misdemeanor drug cases.

She believes the money spent on prosecution would be better spent on drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.

“Over the past few decades, it has become clear that criminal justice system has allocated a disproportionate amount of its finite resources to addressing the public health issue of drug use and addiction and I believe that we have to take steps to limit the number of individuals who become involved in the system for low-level, non-violent crimes,” Alvarez said.

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Felony drug possession for nonviolent offenders would be deferred to alternative programs. Alvarez says this will be a first-of-its-kind program in the entire country. The aim is to steer the offenders toward treatment and social service organizations.

They will also refrain from prosecuting juveniles for minor drug possession cases, which they have already been doing for some time.

Alvarez insisted she was not going soft on drugs.

“Drugs are bad,” she said. “I’m not promoting any kind of drug use. I am not promoting legalization of anything.”

Ali Nagib, of NORML, the group that wants marijuana to be legal, says the Alvarez announcement is the latest example that local governments across the country are conceding past efforts have failed.

“If we really just stepped up this enforcement that it would make drugs go away, that we would get rid of drugs, that we would get rid of drug addiction, but the truth is those policies don’t work,” he said.

Alvarez says pending cases will not be affected.

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The announcement came on April 20, also known as “4-20” day, in reference to a term used by marijuana smokers as slang for “lighting up,” but officials said the timing of the announcement and the date were only coincidental.