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Statistics show drop for some federal drug prosecutions: Will it last?

While people might have missed it, the U.S. Sentencing Commission -- the independent federal agency tasked with creating sentencing policies for the federal courts, advising Congress and the executive branch on effective crime policy, and analyzing federal crime and sentencing issues -- released a rather eye-opening report a few weeks back.

Specifically, the USSC report determined that of the over 67,000 people charged with federal offenses in 2016, 19,945 were brought up on charges for some manner of drug offense or, put another way, 845 fewer people than were charged in 2015.

Breaking the numbers down by illegal substances, the USSC report shows federal sentences related to marijuana drop from 3,543 in 2015 to 3,534 in 2016. While this is admittedly not the most impressive drop, things become far more impressive when you examine it over a longer timeframe.

Specifically, the USSC report shows that the number of federal marijuana sentences was 6,992 back in 2012. However, this number fell to 4,942 the following year and dropped all the way down to 3,971 in 2014.

As for the reason behind this precipitous long-term decline, experts point out that it actually coincides with the legalization of the drug in Washington and Colorado, the two states that led the pro-pot charge and which saw little interference by federal law enforcement authorities in the aftermath of their historic voter-approved measures.

Some of the other interesting findings of the recent USSC report, include:

  • Federal sentences relating to crack cocaine fell from 1,958 in 2015 to 1,582 in 2016, while those relating to powdered cocaine fell from 4,208 in 2015 to 3,891 in 2016.
  • Federal sentences relating to heroin increased from 2,744 in 2015 to 2,830 in 2016.
  • Federal sentences relating to methamphetamine increased from 6,468 in 2015 to 6,626 in 2016.

While these figures are largely encouraging, it's important to understand that there might be a major shift ahead, as newly-appointed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already indicated that combating violent crime and drug crime will be a priority for the DOJ in the years ahead.  

Stay tuned for developments ...

In the meantime, if you are facing any manner of federal drug crime -- possession, manufacture, trafficking -- consider speaking with a skilled legal professional as soon as possible, as the stakes are simply too high.

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Darryl A. Goldberg
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Chicago, IL 60602

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