DEA Reports Ongoing Decline in Federal Pot Arrests

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Federal law enforcement continues to make fewer and fewer arrests for weed, according to data released by the Department of Justice, a trend that dovetails with the new cannabis laws that have bloomed in the last decade.

From 2010 until 2020, there was an 11% decline in cannabis-related arrests by Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officers, the report from the Justice Department said.

That same time period saw a seven percent decline in arrests for crack cocaine, and a six percent decline in arrests for powder cocaine.

In raw numbers, the DEA made 8,215 arrests for cannabis-related offenses in 2010, compared with 2,576 in 2020. 

The number of pot-related arrests declined each year in that decade.

The cannabis reform advocacy group NORML also pointed to data from the United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), which reported that “federal convictions for marijuana-related activities have similarly declined over the past decade.”

“Marijuana law enforcement is becoming less of a federal priority in an age where the majority of Americans believe that cannabis ought to be legal,” NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said. “It is vital that Congress takes action to amend federal law in a manner that comports with this reality,” he continued.

The decline in weed arrests coincided with a period in the country that has seen a growing number of states and cities end prohibition and legalize recreational pot use for adults.

Polls consistently show broad, bipartisan support for cannabis legalization.

But despite the change in laws and attitudes, cannabis remains illegal on the federal level as a result of its status on the Controlled Substances Act.

With Democrats controlling Congress and the executive branch, there is hope among advocates that legalization will finally go national.

In April, Democrats in the House of Representatives passed the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act, a measure that would remove pot from the Controlled Substances Act.

Democrats in the Senate have said that they will offer up their own legalization bill. That was initially supposed to happen by the end of April, but Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer later said that the bill will likely be unveiled before the Congressional recess in August.

Schumer has made no secret of his desire to pass a legalization bill.

Last year, he said that the party was eager to move on the issue, despite President Joe Biden’s own misgivings about ending prohibition.

“We will move forward,” Schumer said at the time. “[Biden] said he’s studying the issue, so [I] obviously want to give him a little time to study it. I want to make my arguments to him, as many other advocates will. But at some point we’re going to move forward, period.”

“In 2018, I was the first member of the Democratic leadership to come out in support of ending the federal prohibition. I’m sure you ask, ‘Well what changed?’ Well, my thinking evolved. When a few of the early states—Oregon and Colorado—wanted to legalize, all the opponents talked about the parade of horribles: Crime would go up. Drug use would go up. Everything bad would happen,” he added. “The legalization of states worked out remarkably well. They were a great success. The parade of horribles never came about, and people got more freedom. And people in those states seem very happy.”

There were other notable takeaways in the report from the Department of Justice, which noted that “U.S. marshals made 120,112 arrests [in Fiscal Year 2020], a 42% decrease from the 206,630 bookings in FY 2019.”

The report also said that the “coronavirus pandemic drove an 81% decline in arrests and 77% decline in cases charged from March to April 2020,” and that of “the 26,696 Drug Enforcement Administration arrests in FY 2020, the most common drug type involved was methamphetamine (8,783 arrests), followed by powder cocaine (4,474 arrests).”

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