2021 was a record year in terms of federal marijuana prosecutions. A record that’s bound to be beaten every year until cannabis is legalized at the federal level. Federal prosecutions have been dropping steadily ever since Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for recreational use, and that number continues to decline today.
In 2021, fewer than 1,000 people were charged for marijuana trafficking – 996 cases, to be exact. Of the total drug-related cases sent through the federal courts in 2021, that number accounts for only 5.7%.
What this shows is a nationwide trend that we’ve seen over the last decade, as more and more states jump on the legalization bandwagon. And as legalization continues to occur, even if it’s not yet there at the federal level, it shows that not only is legalized recreational-use cannabis is gaining widespread acceptance across the country, but also that federal prosecutors have found other cases to be of greater priority than those involved cannabis.
Federal Cases Across the Last Decade
In 2012, when Colorado and Washington legalized recreational–use cannabis, the number of marijuana trafficking prosecutions at the federal level was 7,000.
However, from the moment voters in those two states passed legalization initiatives, the number of trafficking cases involving marijuana began to decline. Let’s take a look at the numbers.
- 2013: > 5,000 cases
- 2014: 3,973 cases
- 2015: ~ 3,500 cases
- 2016: ~ 3,500 cases
- 2017: ~ 2,800 cases
- 2018: 2,190 cases
- 2019: ~ 1,900 cases
- 2020: 1,118 cases
- 2021: 996 cases
When looking at the numbers like this, it is pretty easy to see that as more states pass legalization measures, the number of marijuana trafficking cases prosecuted at the federal level will only continue to decline.
NORML On The Decline Of Marijuana Prosecutions
Paul Armentano, the Deputy Director of NORML, urged federal lawmakers to continue to push for federal legalization in a statement he made, according to Forbes, “Although Congress has failed to amend federal cannabis laws, clearly the attitudes and priorities of federal prosecutors have shifted in the era of state-level marijuana legalization. Now it’s time for federal lawmakers to codify these changes in priorities by descheduling marijuana.”
In an article published by Marijuana Moment, NORML’s Political Director, Morgan Fox, echoed the statement made by Armentano, “Despite this downward trend in federal marijuana prosecutions, America’s outdated federal laws are still having a significant and unnecessary impact on real people’s lives. Congress has the opportunity to change that. We urge House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a floor vote on the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expunge Act immediately and sincerely hope that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sticks to his planned April introduction of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act.”
The Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expunge Act, also called the MORE Act, is legislation that would “correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities.
[Related Reading: The MORE Act Needs More Work]
Though it seems that, as of now, federal legalization of cannabis isn’t yet on the horizon, the fact that there have been consistent, steady declines in federal prosecutions of marijuana trafficking cases shows clearly that there’s been a massive shift in the way the nation views weed.
As more states continue to legalize medical and recreational-use cannabis, those numbers will only continue to decline.
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