The Justice Department is backing a proposal to update a federal commission’s sentencing guidelines suggesting that judges treat prior marijuana possession offenses more leniently, arguing that it aligns with the Biden administration’s “sentiment” toward cannabis policy.
Members of the federal U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) voted to propose the amendment in January. And at a public hearing on Wednesday, a federal prosecutor testified on behalf of DOJ in support of the cannabis item.
As it stands, federal judges are directed to take into account prior convictions, including state-level cannabis offenses, as aggravating factors when making sentencing decisions. But as more states have moved to legalize marijuana, advocates have pushed for updated guidelines to make it so a person’s marijuana record doesn’t add criminal history points that could lead to enhanced sentences in new cases.
USSC’s proposal doesn’t seek to remove marijuana convictions as a criminal history factor entirely, but it would revise commentary within the guidelines to “include sentences resulting from possession of marihuana offenses as an example of when a downward departure from the defendant’s criminal history may be warranted.”
The term “downward departure” refers to situations where federal judges impose sentences that are lower than the minimum recommended under current guidelines. In essence, the amendment would codify that simple cannabis possession, “without an intent to sell or distribute it to another person,” is a prime example of a case that should warrant sentencing discretion.
Jonathan Wroblewski, director of DOJ’s Office of Policy and Legislation, said in written testimony that the department “supports the proposed amendment” on revising the marijuana sentencing guidance.
“The President has made clear his views that ‘no one should be i