Sentencing Commission Stats Show Steady Drop in Federal Prosecutions for Marijuana Trafficking

The Federal Docket

The U.S. Sentencing Commission routinely releases “Quick Facts” on its public website reflecting trends in federal criminal cases. In June, the USSC released statistics regarding trends in federal marijuana trafficking cases.

The Commission’s statistics show that there has been a significant and consistent drop in marijuana trafficking cases at the federal level since at least 2016. In 2016, there were at least 3,422 marijuana trafficking cases. In 2020, there were 1,118, and each year showed a steady decline. The top districts for the highest number of marijuana trafficking cases were in Texas, Arizona, and California. The average sentence in 2020 was 29 months, with 69.9% of offenders receiving a downward variance from the sentencing guidelines, though the 29 months reflects an increase in the average sentence since 2016.

That federal marijuana trafficking cases are down should come as no surprise as more states legalize recreational and medical marijuana. Notably, the number of marijuana cases decreased over the last four years despite the Trump administration rescinding the “Cole Memo,” a policy issued by the Obama administration directing the feds not to prosecute marijuana offenses in states where the drug is legal. The numbers will certainly continue to decrease as additional states legalize marijuana and given signals from the Biden administration and its officials that marijuana enforcement is not going to be a top priority for the DOJ.

Click here to read the USSC’s “Quick Facts” on Marijuana Trafficking.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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