The variety of federal sentences for low-level marijuana possession has plummeted lately, thanks primarily to a dramatic drop in prosecutions of individuals arrested in Arizona. However prior state convictions for easy possession are nonetheless boosting federal penalties for different offenses by growing the variety of “felony historical past factors” thought of below sentencing tips.
Beneath federal regulation, easy marijuana possession is punishable by a minimal fantastic of $1,000 and as much as a 12 months in jail. Federal costs have all the time accounted for a tiny share of marijuana possession circumstances, which generally are prosecuted below state regulation. However in keeping with a current report from the U.S. Sentencing Fee (USSC), federal courts sentenced simply 145 defendants for easy marijuana possession in fiscal 12 months 2021, down from 2,172 in FY 2014.
Most of those circumstances concerned individuals caught with marijuana at or close to the U.S.-Mexican border. The us says the downward development was “largely pushed” by circumstances in Arizona, which accounted for 79 p.c of the entire since FY 2014. Sentences in that state fell from 1,916 in FY 2014 to solely two in FY 2021.
Amongst defendants sentenced within the earlier 5 fiscal years, 86 p.c have been male, 71 p.c have been Hispanic, and 60 p.c weren’t U.S. residents. About 70 p.c obtained jail sentences, which averaged 5 months.
The us attributes the 93 p.c drop in easy possession circumstances since FY 2014 to an “evolving coverage shift.” It mentions President Joe Biden’s mass pardon for low-level marijuana offenders and notes that the Justice Division “typically has handled marijuana possession offenses as a low enforcement precedence lately.” However the downward development that the report describes predates the pardon, and federal sentences for easy marijuana possession have been falling precipitously earlier than Biden took workplace, starting on the finish of the Obama administration and persevering with by way of the Trump administration.
The report additionally considers how prior easy possession convictions have an effect on federal defendants charged with different crimes. In FY 2021, 4,405 federal offenders “obtained felony historical past factors below the federal sentencing tips for prior marijuana possession sentences.” These factors put 1,765 defendants in the next felony historical past class, which figured within the sentences they obtained.
Whereas the affect of a previous marijuana possession conviction would possibly quantity to only a few extra months behind bars, that extra punishment might simply exceed the penalty imposed within the state marijuana case. The us stories that 79 p.c of the prior sentences “have been for lower than 60 days in jail.” In impact, these defendants are punished once more for marijuana possession, and the second penalty is extra extreme.