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Federal Weed Prosecutions Fell by 28% in 2019
news  |  Jan 2, 2020

Federal Weed Prosecutions Fell by 28% in 2019

Legalizing marijuana at the state level led to a huge drop in federal criminal cases involving cannabis.

Legalizing marijuana at the state level led to a huge drop in federal criminal cases involving cannabis.

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In 2019, federal cases involving marijuana dropped significantly compared to the previous year, according to a Tuesday report written by Supreme Court Justice John Roberts. The drop signals that the federal justice system is loosening up on weed crimes as a majority of US states reform their marijuana laws.

Although drug-related prosecutions climbed 5 percent during the 2019 fiscal year ending in September, “defendants accused of crimes associated with marijuana decreased 28 percent,” Justice Roberts wrote.

Why the big slump in weed prosecutions, even though marijuana remains outlawed at the federal level (plus, the fact that weed use has gone up considerably since 2014?) Roberts’s report doesn’t include any hows or whys — only the raw data. But we’ve got some ideas.

First, the opioid crisis in the US has been federal law enforcement’s top priority since 2017, when President Trump declared the crisis a national emergency. While the FBI, DEA, and other federal police agencies were busy busting heroin and painkiller rings, cocaine and meth smuggling surged, which likely contributed to a greater number of drug busts for non-weed substances. 

Second, raiding weed grows isn’t popular with the US public these days. Most Americans now favor some form of cannabis legalization, including 53 percent of Republican voters, who have traditionally supported marijuana prohibition in the past. 

Third, and perhaps the most important, most US states have reformed their weed laws in recent years, making it more difficult for federal authorities to push into any given state. State medical marijuana businesses are — and have been — protected thanks to the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which prevents the government from spending federal money on raids and prosecution. And although the US Department of Justice no longer recognizes the Obama-era marijuana guidelines, the Trump Administration has, for the most part, quietly continued Obama’s hands-off policy when it comes to state-legal weed.

So, what does all this mean for the US? It means the feds are finally recognizing that busting cannabis growers, smokers, and sellers is a huge waste of resources. And while prosecuting anyone for low-level drug offenses is both unjust and unproductive, at least the cops are finally starting to lay-off marijuana users. And that’s a good thing, since federal legalization is happening within our lifetimes, and law enforcement will need to transition to prosecuting other crimes if they want to remain in business.

Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter

randyrobinson

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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