The number of people sentenced for federal crimes associated with marijuana has dropped for the fifth year in a row, according to the latest data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
An analysis of the statistics provided by the Washington Post shows 3,534 people were sentence in 2016 for federal marijuana crimes. The majority of the offenses surrounding these cases – a whopping 3,398 of them – involved the trafficking of pot, while another 122 people were slapped with federal sentences for simply being in possession of the herb.
Interestingly, very few cases involving marijuana ever make it to trial. The commission’s report shows around 97 percent of the people facing federal pot charges accept a plea deal rather than take their chances in front of a jury of their peers.
It is important to understand that the latest figures only deal in federal marijuana offenses and in no way paint an accurate portrait of the law enforcement problem associated with these crimes. This is because the majority of marijuana offenses are dealt with at the state level. The most recent FBI crime statistics shows that state or local police arrested somewhere around 574,641 people in 2015 for simple marijuana possession – that’s more than one arrest for weed every minute.
A breakdown of the report shows there are still more people being sentenced for marijuana than heroin. Yet, crimes associated with methamphetamine lead the pack.
Overall, the data shows that marijuana sentences are slowly diminishing across the United States. This is undoubtedly connected to the change in drug laws in states like Colorado and Washington, which have ended marijuana prohibition entirely. But with the uncertainly surrounding President Trump’s Department of Justice and its seeming desire to get tougher on marijuana, it is conceivable that we could start to see an increase in these types of arrests in the years to come.
While some opponents of pot reform often argue that very few people actually serve jail time for marijuana possession, the reverberations of this offense can still have a devastating impact. Even if a person is sentenced to probation in theses cases, they must still contend with a criminal record, which can limit job prospects, opportunities related to education, and in some cases places to live.
Congress has the power to pass legislation to change the situation. But there simply isn’t enough support on Capitol Hill to make nationwide reforms.