Federal Drug Possession Cases Fell 28% in 2019, New Data Reveals
Drug cases, which used to make up the majority of cases in the federal court system, slipped into second place last year. Now, immigration cases dominate.
Published on March 25, 2020

Federal cases for possession of all drug types fell considerably in 2019 compared to previous years, according to an announcement by the US Sentencing Commission on Monday. The announcement follows the commission’s release of its annual report, which summarizes data regarding federal crime cases, sentencing guidelines, and boring budget stuff.

The US Sentencing Commission noted on Twitter that federal courts saw a 28 percent reduction in drug possession cases in 2019 compared to 2018. In fact, of all the crime categories, drug possession fell the most. 

The commission’s annual report shows that methamphetamine, not marijuana, was the federal court system’s primary drug offender in 2019. Cases related to meth made up nearly half — or 44 percent — of all drug cases last year. Meanwhile, weed has increasingly fallen off of the feds’ collective radar since 2012, which happens to be the same year Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize recreational pot.

As noted by Marijuana Moment, cannabis was, in a sense, the feds’ drug of choice by 2012, with 7,000 cases involving the plant back then. In other words, in 2012, weed-related crimes made up most of the feds’ drug-related cases. But over the following seven years, marijuana cases began rapidly plummeting by number. By 2019, marijuana became one of the least prioritized drugs alongside crack-cocaine, with both cannabis and crack coming in at just below 2,000 cases each.

The latest number-crunching from the Sentencing Commission jives with an earlier report written by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts in January. In Roberts’s report, he showed that prosecutions for marijuana crimes dropped, coincidentally, by 28 percent in 2019 compared to 2018. 

Another take away from the Sentencing Commission’s report: Drugs no longer compose the bulk of the feds’ cases. That title now belongs to immigration cases, likely due to President Trump’s focus on stopping illegal immigration into the US (and, y’know, denying asylum seekers their human rights, too). 

In 2019, immigration cases accounted for 38.4 percent of all federal court cases. On the other hand, drug cases — which were mainly for trafficking, not possession — accounted for just 26.6 percent of federal cases that same year. 

Does the US Sentencing Commission’s data indicate that the US is starting to rethink its failed War on Drugs? It’s hard to say, but we can be certain about one thing: The feds are likely throwing in the towel on marijuana prohibition. Now, it’s likely a matter of when, and not necessarily if. 

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Randy Robinson
Based in Denver, Randy studied cannabinoid science while getting a degree in molecular biology at the University of Colorado. When not writing about cannabis, science, politics, or LGBT issues, they can be found exploring nature somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. Catch Randy on Twitter and Instagram @randieseljay
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