SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah led the nation in convictions for simple drug possession on public lands last year, according to a data research organization at Syracuse University.
Using Justice Department data, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse found Utah's federal court processed about a third of the 465 convictions nationwide -- or some 155 convictions.
The District of Eastern Virginia was second with 79 convictions, and the Western District of Texas was third with 61 convictions.
The clearinghouse's figures are not broken down by drug type.
The National Park Service accounted for the most case filings in Utah last year, with the U.S. Forest Service close behind.
"It is not surprising that Utah would lead the nation in this area, given the significant amount of federal land in our state," David Barlow, U.S. attorney for Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune. "''While some states have federal land that is not used for recreation, much of Utah's federal property -- our national forests, national parks and monuments, recreation areas and public lands -- is used by Utah residents and visitors to our state."
But St. George attorney Aric Cramer questioned the high number of convictions.
"Frankly, this is just a waste of resources," Cramer said. "There are so many things park rangers could be doing, like helping people rather than crawling around on their bellies with night-vision goggles to catch people who are puffing on a joint -- especially now when we are in a sequester, where federal budgets are rather thin."
A total of 165 people were charged with simple possession on public lands in Utah last year, according to court filings in U.S. District Court for Utah. The vast majority -- 145 people -- were cited for marijuana; others were caught with drugs such as methamphetamine, hallucinogenic mushrooms and cocaine. About half live in other states, and most were college-age young men.