Federal Marijuana Convictions Result in Shorter Sentences Due to Recent Reforms

Late last week, a United States District Judge in Maryland issued an opinion in a federal marijuana case discussing his reasons for imposing a sentence that was significantly less than the advisory sentencing guideline range.

In US v. Dayi, Judge James Bredar acknowledged that the “new enforcement priorities” of the Department of Justice and the “recent enactments of state voters and legislators” suggest that the federal sentencing guidelines that apply to marijuana cases may be outdated and too harsh.  According to Judge Bredar, recent developments suggest that the current federal sentencing guidelines for marijuana cases overstate the seriousness of the underlying offenses. Judge Bredar also believes that these recent developments could create unwarranted disparities in sentencing for people who have been convicted of marijuana offense. Specifically, Judge Bredar noted that a marijuana enterprise that would be prosecuted in some states would not be prosecuted if those enterprises were conducting business in a state where marijuana was legal.  In the Dayi case, Judge Bredar believed that a 2-level downward variance from the advisory sentencing guideline range was appropriate.

Our firm had a sentencing last week in federal court in a marijuana distribution case in Seattle, Washington, where voters have recently decided to legalize the possession of marijuana.  In our case, the district judge also entered a sentence well below the advisory guideline range, although he did not specifically state on the record that he agreed with the reasons stated by Judge Bredar.  Regardless, it appears that at least some district court judges are willing to consider lower sentences in marijuana cases due to the recent DOJ policies relating to the prosecution of marijuana cases and the national trend towards marijuana legalization.

For any pending federal marijuana case, we believe it is a good idea to file a sentencing memorandum before the sentencing date to suggest to the district court judge that a below guideline sentence would be appropriate. That’s certainly what we intend to do for our clients.