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Far Fewer Federal Offenders Charged with [Cannabis]-Related Crimes in 2021

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Washington, DC: Federal officials charged far fewer people with [cannabis]-related crimes in 2021 as compared to previous years, according to data compiled by the US Sentencing Commission in its 2021 Annual Report.

Just under 1,000 people were charged federally with violating [cannabis] laws in 2021. They compromised less than six percent of those charged with violating federal drug laws that year.

By contrast, federal officials charged nearly 7,000 people in 2012 with [cannabis] offenses. That was greater than the number of people charged with any other drug violation. By 2016, that total fell to fewer than 3,500 people. The total has continued to fall steadily since then.

Commenting on the latest federal figures, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “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 [cannabis] legalization. Now it’s time for federal lawmakers to codify these changes in priorities by descheduling [cannabis].”

NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox added: “Despite this downward trend in federal [cannabis] prosecutions, America’s outdated federal laws are still having a significant and unnecessary impact on real people’s lives.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. Lawmakers must continue to build momentum to end our failed [cannabis] prohibition policies and help those who have been unjustly hurt by them. 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.”

Overall, 31 percent of all federal offenders in 2021 were charged with drug violations, up from about 26 percent in 2020. Just under half of all people charged with federal drug offenses in 2021 were prosecuted for trafficking methamphetamine.

The 2021 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics is available online here.



NORML advocates for changes in public policy so that the responsible possession and use of [cannabis] by adults is no longer subject to criminal penalties. NORML further advocates for a regulated commercial cannabis market so that activities involving the for-profit production and retail sale of cannabis and cannabis products are safe, transparent, consumer-friendly, and are subject to state and/or local licensure. Finally, NORML advocates for additional changes in legal and regulatory policies so that those who use [cannabis] responsibly no longer face either social stigma or workplace discrimination, and so that those with past criminal records for [cannabis]-related violations have the opportunity to have their records automatically expunged.

Find out more at and read our Fact Sheets on the most common misconceptions and myths regarding reform efforts around the country

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