U.S Sentencing Commission Report: Fed Pot Offenders Drop, No One in Prison for Simple Marijuana Possession 

By Jack Sandmeyer & Julie McCaffrey

WASHINGTON, DC. – A report by the U.S. Sentencing Commission released this week examined the impacts of sentences for simple possession of marijuana with criminal history calculations under federal guidelines, notably that the number of federal offenders sentenced for simple possession of marijuana decreased dramatically from 2014 to 2021.

The report cited 2,172 offenders in 2014, and 145 offenders in 2021, and noted that “as of January 2022, no offenders sentenced solely for simple possession of marijuana remained in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” 

The report showed that only “4,405 federal offenders (eight percent) received criminal history points under the federal sentencing guidelines for prior marijuana possession sentences”—nearly 80 percent of prior sentences were for less than 60 days in prison.

However, the report does indicate the criminal history points assigned under the federal sentencing guidelines for prior marijuana possession sentences resulted in a higher criminal history category for 1,765 of the 4,405 offenders (40.1 percent).

The study noted, “Of the 1,765 offenders whose criminal history category was impacted by a prior marijuana possession sentence, most were male (94.2 percent), U.S. citizens (80. percent), and either Black (41.7 percent) or Hispanic (40.1 percent).

The study, “Weighing the Impact of Simple Possession of Marijuana: Trends and Sentencing in the Federal System,amends the findings of a previous Commission study by detailing two distinct aspects of prior possession sentencing. 

Part One of the report identifies the common trends of sentencing for simple possession of marijuana at the federal level in the past eight years. 

This portion of the study focuses on the demographic characteristics, criminal history, and sentencing outcomes of federal offenders of marijuana possession, and compared to sentences of offenders charged with control of other drug types besides marijuana. 

Part Two of the Commission’s report explores the impact of prior sentencing for an individual’s criminal history calculations in new federal offense guidelines. 

These calculations are determined through a “point” system that allocates the criminal history category in the sentencing table of federal guidelines for any person convicted of a federal offense. These earlier convictions for simple possession of marijuana exist at both the state and federal level.

The primary intent of Part Two, the Commission notes, was to identify the number of federal offenders in 2021 who had received criminal history points for simple possession of marijuana. The information was then used to assess how these points affected the criminal history categories for the offenders.

About The Author

Jack is a sophomore at UC Davis majoring in Economics. Following his 4 years at Davis, he hopes to pursue a career in law with an emphasis on environmental sustainability. He plans on attending law school in southern California after he graduates.

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