A recently published report shows that individuals with prior cannabis convictions receive tougher prison sentences at the federal level. The report, published by the United States Sentencing Commission, calls attention to the long-term consequences of marijuana convictions with regard to sentencing at the federal level.
It also shows how many defendants have faced lengthier sentences due to state-level cannabis possession offenses, even after their states decriminalized or legalized marijuana.
Earlier in October, the agency announced that it would be amending its guidelines to change how cannabis possession convictions affected an individual’s criminal history calculation in sentencing rulings. Its latest report includes data showing why revising its guidelines is crucial.
The report shows that in the 2021 fiscal year, 4,405 federal offenders had extra points added to their criminal history score because of a prior marijuana possession conviction. Of this number, 1,765 were classified in a higher criminal history bracket, which came with a longer sentence. The report showed that 40% of those in this category were Hispanic while 42% were Black.
It also demonstrated that about 97% of prior cannabis possessions were state convictions, with almost 23% of them coming from a state that had since decriminalized marijuana. Roughly 15% of them were convicted in a state that had since permitted the medical use of marijuana while 18.2% were convicted in a state that had since legalized marijuana possession.
Additionally, nearly 20% of those facing serious federal consequences were of possession in a state that facilitated record expungements or a combination of the aforementioned changes in policy.
The report’s findings highlight how the federal-state cannabis disconnect makes individuals from some communities more vulnerable to severe penalties, even as federal prosecutions decline and more states adopt reform.
In the recent years, federal marijuana possession cases have trended downward significantly. Data show that in 2014, 2,172 cases were recorded at the federal level. This is a high figure, especially in comparison to the 145 cases recorded in fiscal year 2022.
This decline is mainly attributed to decreased enforcement in the District of Arizona, which made up almost 80% of all federal cannabis possession sentencings since 2014. Cases in this particular district dropped to two in the 2021 fiscal year from a whopping 1,916 cases in 2014.
The report adds that while marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, federal policy on cannabis possession seems to be shifting.
The struggle to end all the different manifestations of marijuana prohibition is still ongoing, and fairness in federal sentencing is just one front where this is being pursued. Access to funding is another as enterprises such as REZYFi Inc. step in to bridge the gap as advocates push for passing a cannabis banking law.
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