(Published September 21, 2016) The number of federal offenders whose most serious offense was simple drug possession increased nearly 400 percent during the six-year period between fiscal years 2008 and 2013. A change of this magnitude over a relatively short period of time triggered further investigation into these cases using data on offender and offense characteristics routinely collected by the United States Sentencing Commission, as well as additional data collected specifically for this project.
At first, this dramatic increase in the number of offenders sentenced for the simple possession of drugs seems to suggest a substantially increased focus on this offense by federal law enforcement personnel. Further analysis, however, does not support such a conclusion. The Commission's analysis shows:
- The increase in federal simple possession cases is almost entirely attributable to a single drug type—marijuana.
- The increase in federal simple possession cases is almost entirely attributable to offenders who were arrested at or near the U.S./Mexico border (a group almost entirely composed of offenders from the District of Arizona).
- For simple possession of marijuana offenders arrested at locations other than the U.S./Mexico border, the median quantity of marijuana involved in the offense was 5.2 grams (0.2 ounces).
- In contrast, the offense conduct of simple possession of marijuana offenders arrested at that border involved a median quantity of 22,000 grams (48.5 pounds or 776.0 ounces)—a quantity that appears in excess of a personal use quantity.