(UR) According to the latest statistics released by the United States Sentencing Commission, federal marijuana trafficking offenses are on the decline — and have been since Washington and Colorado legalized weed in 2012.
“The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013,” the report says, “and the number continues to decrease.” By contrast, the numbers for heroin and methamphetamines are on the rise.
The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC) is an independent agency within the judicial branch of the federal government, and was established “to collect, analyze, research, and distribute a broad array of information on federal crime and sentencing issues, serving as an information resource for Congress, the executive branch, the courts, criminal justice practitioners, the academic community, and the public.”
But the USSC only tracks data on the federal level. State and local numbers aren’t taken into account. So while the latest report should be encouraging for those pushing for marijuana legalization across the board, it’s unlikely to sway the attitude of authorities who want to stop the movement in its tracks.
Back in 2014, for instance, the Attorneys General for Nebraska and Oklahoma asked the U.S. Supreme Court to act against the wishes of Colorado voters and make marijuana once again illegal in that state.
n a press conference on the day of the filing, Oklahoma Attorney General Doug Peterson said that legalization in Colorado “wreaks all sorts of havoc on surrounding states” due to trafficking across state lines. Nebraska’s Jon Bruning initiated the filing and had asked other states to join in the suit, but Peterson was the only attorney general to accept. In the end, the Supreme Court declined to even hear the case.
Sheriffs in states neighboring Colorado have complained that weed legalization has placed them in a precarious position, and that the contradicting laws have led to more arrests — which in turn puts a hurt on their budgets.
“Every time we stop somebody, that’s taking up my deputy’s time with your Colorado pot,” Nebraska’s Sheriff Mark Overman said in an interview in 2014. “We have to pay overtime, pay the prosecutor, pay to incarcerate them, pay for their defense if they’re indigent. Colorado’s taxing it, but everybody else is paying the price.”
Many would counter, however, that if Nebraska simply followed the growing trend and legalized marijuana, complaints such as the ones voiced by Sheriff Overman would be a non-issue.
And although there’s no question that weed from Colorado and Washington is being transported all over the country, this latest data suggests that the activity may be far less of a problem than opponents to legalization would have the public believe — and that their pains are perhaps of their own making.
“These guys are on the wrong side of history,” Mason Tvert, of the Marijuana Policy Project, told USA Today last week.
And while the USSC report may be further evidence that Tvert is indeed correct, the report fails to address precisely why weed trafficking numbers have been falling.
In an email sent to the Washington Post, Beau Kilmer — a drug policy researcher with RAND Corp. — said that there are three main factors that affect trafficking numbers:
“1) efforts made by law enforcement, 2) efforts made by the smugglers to conceal the contraband, and 3) the amount of contraband being shipped. Thus, there could be multiple explanations for the decrease at the federal level.”
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