Federal Cannabis Sentences Declined Sharply Under Obama Administration

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During the last five years of the Obama Administration, sentences for federal cannabis crimes plummeted, according to statistics from the U.S. Sentencing Commission outlined by the Washington Post. In 2011-2012 about 7,000 people received federal sentences for cannabis crimes – by 2016 that number was almost halved, to 3,534. Of those, 3,398 were for trafficking cannabis. The other 122 sentenced were for simple possession; however some of those offenders might have pleaded down from a more serious crime.

The number of convictions drops sharply in 2013, the same year that the Justice Department issued the Cole Memo, and one year after Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize adult cannabis use. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has indicated that the Cole Memo – which directed state attorneys general to allow states to operate their legal cannabis markets without federal interference – is under review. More recently, the Trump Administration forced all of the state attorneys general holdovers from the previous administration to resign.

The report does not include the number of people sentenced for low-level cannabis crimes under state and locals laws – more than 500,000 people in 2015 according to the Post report. Comparatively, in 2015 about 3,500 people were sentenced for federal cannabis crimes.

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