The United States Sentencing Commission has released its annual report and 2016 Sourcebook, which is basically a rundown of who got sentenced and for what—on a federal level.
One of the outstanding findings for 2016 is that 77 percent of people sentenced in federal marijuana cases are Hispanic.
Another disturbing piece of data: At least 122 people were sentenced in federal court on simple marijuana possession charges last year.
While federal marijuana cases are significantly lower since legalization became widespread in the past five years, a total of 3,534 offenders received sentences for federal marijuana crimes in 2016, most for trafficking. That still seems like too many people doing federal prison time.
The commission’s statistics, published by the Washington Post, show that more than 97 percent of people charged with a federal crime plead guilty, rather than go to trial.
After Colorado and Washington legalized recreational weed in 2012, the data showed a sharp drop in the number of federal marijuana sentences the following year, down from 6,992 to 4,942. Logical.
This also seems to reflect the fact that, even though weed in all forms is still a Schedule 1 drug and illegal under federal law, federal prosecutors in legal states often take advantage of the opportunity to be flexible under the Cole Amendment and accept the fact that Americans voted to legalize cannabis.
The Washington Post points out that these federal numbers do not include sentencing under state and local law, where the vast majority of drug enforcement takes place.
Much of what we see in the chart above is a function of the decisions made by individual U.S. attorneys.
In other words, they respected states’ rights, a continuation of which we were hoping to see under the current administration in the White House.
That was until Trump abruptly fired 46 attorneys general left over from the Obama administration.
A new group will be nominated to take their place, and we all know what that means.
Although the new prosecutors will need senate confirmation, it’s anyone’s guess how this will affect federal sentencing, respect for states’ rights and the Cole Amendment.
We can only hope senators from the 28 states that are benefitting from legal medical and recreational weed will step up to the plate and fight for their constituents.