Federal Marijuana Arrests Plummet Nationally as State-By-State Legalization Grows

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fbi weed arrests

The US Sentencing Commission has just released its 2021 Annual Report, where federal officials have announced that less people have been charged for cannabis-related crimes in the said year compared to previous years.

 

Last year, only less than 1,000 people faced federal charges for breaking marijuana laws, which makes up under 6% of people charged for violating federal drug laws. Compared to 2012 when almost 7,000 were convicted by the feds with marijuana offenses, this is surely great progress. Then in 2020, 1,118 cannabis charges were recorded by the USCC.

 

This means that cannabis is no longer as big a priority for police agents as it should be, given that legalization of the plant continues to spread around the country and there have been policies put in place by the feds to lessen the priority of catching people for cannabis crimes. The yearly decline in cases is in line with the increase in states who have legal cannabis laws in place. Consumers now have more legal channels to buy cannabis than ever, so there’s significantly less of a reason for them to resort to criminal methods of obtaining cannabis. It also reflects how the federal government is slowly deprioritizing cannabis cases, while support for cannabis legalization is at an all-time high.

federal drug cases drop

“Although Congress has failed to amend federal cannabis laws, clearly the attitudes and priorities of federal prosecutors have shifted in the era of state-level marijuana legalization. Now it’s time for federal lawmakers to codify these changes in priorities by descheduling marijuana,” said Paul Armetano, NORML’s Deputy Director.

 

“Despite this downward trend in marijuana prosecutions, America’s outdated federal laws are still having a significant and unnecessary impact on people’s lives. Congress has the opportunity to change that. Lawmakers must continue to build momentum to end our failed marijuana prohibition policies and help those who have been unjustly hurt by them. We urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expunge Act immediately, and sincerely hope that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sticks to his planned April introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act,” added Morgan Fox, NORML’s Political Director.

 

The House Rules Committee just announced that they will be having a hearing on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, which, if it goes well, should be the final step needed before the floor considers the bill. If passed, it would finally eliminate marijuana from the list of federally controlled list of drugs while also getting rid of criminal penalties involved with getting caught with marijuana.  In addition, the bill would impose federal taxes on cannabis sales so that programs in communities who have been severely affected by the war on drugs could help people instead.

 

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake. The racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only made it worse, with serious consequences, particularly for communities of color,” explained House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, who authored the bill.

 

There are already 37 states at least plus 4 territories and the District of Columbia that have permitted marijuana for medical use. Meanwhile, 18 states plus 2 territories and the capital have allowed it for recreational use. Putting people in jail for cannabis crimes – something that is legal – simply makes no sense at all.

 

Why This Is Important

 

Amending the laws will not change the failed war on drugs, and it will not change the lives of the millions of people around the country who have been unjustly affected by it.

 

When someone has a criminal record for a cannabis crime, no matter how minor it seems to be, they have to face long-lasting stigma. It does nothing but perpetuates trauma of unfair criminalization and greatly reduces life opportunities for them, most especially for blacks and marginalized communities. It has long been known that black people are almost 4 times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes compared to white people in the United States, and this racial profiling has to stop. Moreover, criminalizing ANYONE for cannabis crimes must stop.

 

Thankfully, many states have already enacted expungement laws, a critical piece of the solution that helps us progress towards legalization and decriminalization. Should a person have an arrest record, this will make it extremely difficult for them to get a college education later on, housing, and a job.

 

Expungement is only a part of the solution. Literally, when a person has been expunged of their crime, the record is completely destroyed so that it would no longer be accessible by court and subject to various punitive measures. In essence, expungement means to remove past criminal records. Another solution is record sealing, a different process that means that the criminal record has been hidden from the public which enables minor cannabis convictions from being removed or its views are limited.

 

If a convicted person has a sealed record, they can legitimately respond that they have no record, whenever they are asked if they have one during a job or housing interview. But state law-enforcement agencies can still view sealed records when reviewing them for adoption, foster care, or childcare programs. Sealing and expungement are two important mechanisms that progress us further towards legalization. People can have greater chances of living better lives when these are put in place. However, the exact measures and restrictions when it comes to sealing or expunging records will differ based on jurisdiction.

 

Hopefully, we’ll be seeing the necessary bills advance to further promote legalization and avoid the unjust criminalization of people all over the country.

 

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