Federal Cannabis Charges Plummeted in 2022

Only about 800 people were charged for cannabis-related federal offenses last year.

The federal government only charged 806 individuals with marijuana-related offenses last year, a sharp decrease from previous years and another sign of shifting law enforcement priorities.

Those charges comprised only a little more than 4% of federal drug cases in 2022. Nearly half of those cases––48.5%––involved methamphetamine, while a little more than 17% dealt with powder cocaine. 

The data was included in the US Sentencing Commission’s latest edition of the Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics.

The small number of cannabis-related charges reflects the United States’s increasingly relaxed approach to marijuana.

According to NORML, the 806 individuals who were charged last year “represent a significant decrease from a decade ago, when federal officials charged nearly 7,000 people for violating federal marijuana laws.”

NORML reported that 99 “percent of those charged [last year] were indicted for drug trafficking.” 

Nearly 49% of the individuals charged with marijuana trafficking were Hispanic, according to the sourcebook. More than 28% were Black, while 17% were white.

Pot remains illegal on the federal level, but dozens of states and cities have passed their own laws.

But Washington may get there sooner rather than later. 

Last year, President Joe Biden signaled a major shift in U.S. cannabis policy when he announced a pardon for thousands of individuals with federal marijuana convictions. 

“As I often said during my campaign for President, no one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana. Sending people to prison for possessing marijuana has upended too many lives and incarcerated people for conduct that many states no longer prohibit. Criminal records for marijuana possession have also imposed needless barriers to employment, housing, and educational opportunities. And while white and Black and brown people use marijuana at similar rates, Black and brown people have been arrested, prosecuted, and convicted at disproportionate rates,” Biden said in the announcement in October.

“Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana. It’s time that we right these wrongs,” he said.

The president also urged “all Governors to do the same with regard to state offenses.”

“Just as no one should be in a Federal prison solely due to the possession of marijuana, no one should be in a local jail or state prison for that reason, either,” he said.

In addition to the “pardon of all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana,” Biden said he had asked “the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

“Federal law currently classifies marijuana in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, the classification meant for the most dangerous substances.  This is the same schedule as for heroin and LSD, and even higher than the classification of fentanyl and methamphetamine – the drugs that are driving our overdose epidemic,” Biden said.

The New York Times had more background on Biden’s historic move:

“The pardons will clear everyone convicted on federal charges of simple possession since it became a crime in the 1970s. Officials said full data was not available but noted that about 6,500 people were convicted of simple possession between 1992 and 2021, not counting legal permanent residents. The pardons will also affect people who were convicted under District of Columbia drug laws; officials estimated that number to be in the thousands. The pardons will not apply to people convicted of selling or distributing marijuana. And officials said there are no people now serving time in federal prisons solely for marijuana possession. But the move will help remove obstacles for people trying to get a job, find housing, apply to college or get federal benefits.”

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