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Feds Still Jail More People for Cannabis Than Heroin

March 14, 2017

According to data released this week by the US Sentencing Commission, the number of people sentenced for federal cannabis-related crimes has dropped for the fifth year in a row. Federal prosecutors are still jailing more people for cannabis-related crimes than heroin-related ones, however, despite radical disparities in harm caused by the two substances.

Heroin-related overdose deaths in the United States have more than quadrupled since 2010. 2014 was especially deadly: The number of heroin-related deaths was the highest number of drug overdose deaths on record, climbing to nearly 50,000 in just a single year.

The number of deaths directly attributed to cannabis remains at zero.


According to the sentencing report, 3,534 people were sentenced in federal courts for cannabis crimes. That fell behind sentencing numbers for only two other substances: methamphetamine, with more than 6,000 people sentenced, and powder cocaine, with 3,891.

The report included five specifically identified substances and one “other” category.

On the upside, the data show a sharp decline in federal cannabis crimes, which set in shortly after Colorado and Washington voted to end prohibition, in 2012. In 2011, there were around 7,000 federal arrests related to cannabis. After legalization went through in those two states, the annual number fell to 4,942. It now sits at 3,534.

Over at the Washington Post, they’ve captured the federal data in this at-a-glance graph:


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Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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