Over twelve percent of federal drug prisoners are incarcerated for marijuana-related violations, according to data compiled by US Bureau of Prisons and the United State’s Sentencing Commission and published by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics
Of the 94,678 federal inmates incarcerated for a drug violation as their most serious offense, 12.4 percent (11,533 persons) are serving time for violating marijuana laws. Most marijuana offenders are imprisoned for trafficking violations. The average length of prison time for those incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses is 88 months.
Nearly half (44.3 percent) of federal marijuana inmates are offenders with minimal criminal histories who have not previously served time in prison. Eight-five percent of marijuana offenders did not possess a firearm.
Over a third (36.5 percent) of federal marijuana prisoners are age 40 or older. Thirty-five percent of federal marijuana prisoners are not US citizens.
The percentage of marijuana-related federal prisoners has remained virtually unchanged over the past decade.
Full text of the BJS report, “Drug offenders in federal prison: Estimates of characteristics based on linked data, is online here.
The total number of marijuana-related arrests nationwide rose in 2014, despite the implementation of legalization laws in two states, according to data released today by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
According to the 2014 Uniform Crime Report, police made 700,993 arrests for marijuana-related offenses, some 7,500 more arrests than were reported in 2013. Of those arrested, 619,808 (over 88 percent) were charged with possession only — a two percent increase since 2013.
Marijuana arrests comprised nearly half (45 percent) of all drug-related arrests nationwide, at a cost of nearly half a billion dollars.
In the two states (Colorado and Washington) that have legalized marijuana-related activities, cannabis-related arrests plummeted in 2014 — indicating that that other jurisdictions are prioritizing arrests at a time when the majority of the public is opposed to criminalization. (Recent changes in marijuana laws in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC are not reflected in the 2014 arrest data, but will be reflected in 2015 data.)
As in previous years, marijuana possession arrests were most likely to occur in the midwest and in the southeastern regions of the United States. Far fewer marijuana arrests were reported in the western region of the United States, where possessing the plant has largely been either legalized or decriminalized.
The total number of marijuana arrests for 2014 are some 20 percent lower than the totals for 2007, when police made an all-time high 872,721 cannabis-related arrests.
As first reported by Marijuana.com, a Justice Department internal memo distributed to U.S. House Representatives last year misinformed members on the scope of a medical marijuana amendment they were voting on.
Last year, lawmakers approved 219 to 189 an amendment aimed at prohibiting the Department of Justice from using funds to interfere with the implementation of state medical marijuana laws.
We have now learned that in the days before this vote, Justice Department officials distributed “informal talking points” incorrectly warning members that the amendment could “in effect, limit or possibly eliminate the Department’s ability to enforce federal law in recreational marijuana cases as well.” The realization came from a footnote contained in the memo stating that the talking points previously released were, “intended to discourage the passage of the rider but does not reflect our current thinking.”
The talking points seemed to have an effect on several members, who prior to the final vote on the amendment, argued against it claiming the “amendment as written would tie the DEA’s hands beyond medical marijuana.” Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) went on to claim, “The problem is that the way the amendment is drafted, in a state like Maryland which has medical marijuana, if we ever legalized it, the amendment would stop the DEA from going after more than medical marijuana.”
These statements coupled with the rest of the long debate that took place before the amendment, clearly signal that lawmakers on both sides of the argument believed the amendment to prohibit federal interference in states with medical marijuana.
However, in a very narrow interpretation of the amendment, the Justice Department memo claims that the restriction of federal funds for the use of interfering in state-sanctioned medical marijuana programs is strictly for states and state officials implementing the laws themselves. That is to say, the federal government would still be allowed to arrest and prosecute people who grow marijuana and operate dispensaries but the state officials issuing the licenses are protected from federal intrusion. This explains the continued action taken by the federal government against individuals in states with legal medical marijuana laws on the books.
The same amendment protecting medical marijuana states from federal intervention was passed again this year with a larger margin of support, 242-186.
Representatives Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Farr (D-CA) (sponsors of the medical marijuana amendment) requested last week the Department of Justice’s inspector general hold an internal investigation into the continued action taken by the federal government. They feel Congress has made it clear by passing the amendment two years in a row, federal funds should no longer be used to prosecute individuals acting in compliance with their state laws.
Currently 23 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws. Check out our State Info page to check on your state’s current marijuana laws.
Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 today in favor of an amendment to allow state-compliant marijuana businesses to engage in relationships with financial institutions.
Sponsored by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon and Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the amendment to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill prohibits the US Treasury Department from using federal funds to take punitive actions against banks that provide financial services to marijuana-related businesses that are operating legally under state laws.
Presently, most major financial institutions refuse to provide services to state-compliant operators in the marijuana industry out of fear of federal repercussions. Their refusal to do so presents an unnecessary risk to both those who operate in the legal marijuana industry and to those consumers who patronize it.
No industry can operate safely, transparently or effectively without access to banks or other financial institutions. Further, forcing state-licensed businesses to operate on a ‘cash-only’ basis increases the risks for crime and fraud.
It is time for Congress to change federal policy so that this growing number of state-compliant businesses, and their consumers, may operate in a manner that is similar to other legal commercial entities. Today’s Senate Committee vote marks the first step taken by Congress to address these federal policy deficiencies.
Although stand-alone legislation, The Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015, is pending in both the House and the Senate, it appears unlikely at this time that leadership will move forward with either bill. This means that the Merkley/Murray amendment is like to be reformer’s best opportunity this Congress to impose substantial banking reform.
Keep following NORML’s blog and Take Action Center for legislative updates as this and other relevant reform measures progress. To take action in support of the Merkley/Murray amendment, click here here.
The following Senators voted in favor of the Merkley/Murray amendment:
Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
Bill Cassidy (R-LA)
Christopher Coons (D-DE)
Dick Durbin (D-IL)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Steve Daines (R-MT)
Chris Murphy (D-CT)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Brian Schatz (D-HI)
Jon Tester (D-MT)
Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH)
Tom Udall (D-NM)
And these Senators voted against the Merkley/Murray amendment:
Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Roy Blunt (R-MO)
John Boozman (R-AK)
Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
Susan Collins (R-ME)
Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
John Hoeven (R-ND)
Mark Kirk (R-IL)
James Lankford (R-OK)
Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Jerry Moran (R-KS)
Richard C. Shelby (R-AL)
Police in Florida’s largest county will soon have the option to cite, rather than arrest, minor marijuana offenders.
Commissioners for Miami-Dade county voted 10 to 3 this week in favor of a countywide ordinance to treat marijuana possession offenses involving 20 grams or less as a civil infraction, punishable by a $100 fine — no arrest, no criminal prosecution, no incarceration, and no criminal record. The new ordinance takes effect late next week.
Under state law, minor marijuana possession offenses are classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to an analysis by the ACLU, an estimated 60,000 Floridians are arrested for cannabis possession violations annually — the third highest statewide total in the nation.
According to a countywide analysis by CBS, misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade criminal court system between the years 2010 and 2014. While African Americans comprise just 20 percent of the county’s population, they comprised over half of all of those arrested for marijuana possession offenses.
Senior county officials have not yet provided details in regard to how police will implement the new law or what criteria they will use to determine whether to issue a citation or make an arrest.